By Brandy Ostanik, Medical Department Activity-Alaska PAOJune 8, 2012
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska -- (June 8, 2012) Sgt. 1st Class John Knott, became a member of Bravo Company, Warrior Transition Battalion March 2009 after the Stryker he was riding in was hit by a grenade while on a mounted patrol in Iraq. He quickly found himself in a situation that was foreign to him, a feeling of having no responsibility.
"It was so tough being taken away from the big show. Not being given any responsibility from my leaders was extremely heart-wrenching," said Knott.
During the next couple of months, Knott found a way to take on some responsibility while gaining a sense of accomplishment and confidence in what many might find an unlikely source; gardening.
At his home, Knott began a raised-bed vegetable garden that he nurtured through the summer months. "Gardening is peaceful for me," said Knott. "When I started I wasn't in the state of mind to interact with most people. Working in the garden gave me an outlet to work through things in my own head."
Knott, who continued to use gardening to aide him throughout his healing process, became a platoon sergeant for Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon, WTB in August 2010, and last week helped Soldiers currently assigned to the unit to start a Warrior Garden on the grounds of the Warrior Transition Complex.
Planning the Warrior Garden started months ago as the snow began melting. WTB leaders were looking for outdoor activities to engage Soldiers when Knott brought up the idea of gardening.
Capt. Daniel Corbett, Commander of Bravo Company, WTB wanted to expand on Knott's idea by creating a program that could be beneficial to Soldiers assigned to the unit and be incorporated into the footprint of the new complex, and the Warrior Garden was born.
"Our occupational therapist did some research about other organizations that use gardening for healing purposes, but most of those were Zen gardens, a place for people to relax." That was not quite the approach Corbett or Knott had in mind. "We were looking for more of a holistic approach where they could plant, nurture and harvest their work." said Corbett. "Our thought process was if they are involved in growing something that is living, something they have to care for, they are less likely to go down a destructive path."
With the help of Taylor Maida, head of the Cooperative Extension Service Agriculture and Horticulture Program at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and volunteers from Fairbanks Master Gardeners Program, Soldiers assigned to the WTB and Cadre members spent time learning about growing gardens in Alaska and put that knowledge to use when creating their Warrior Garden.
Before planting could begin, raised-garden containers needed to be built. WTB Soldiers acquired old shipping crates from storage and used those to create the containers. "Being able to recycle the crates and paint them to match our buildings was an added bonus, as was the ability to include more Soldiers in the project," said Corbett. "Not all of our Soldiers are interested in gardening but we were able find Soldiers who were interested in woodworking so they built the containers for the garden."
On the day of planting, Soldiers worked with the Master Gardeners to choose and plant vegetables that would work well together in their containers. Tomatoes, lettuce and onions were chosen by most of the Soldiers while others chose to also plant potatoes, squash, corn and carrots.
Master Gardeners freely gave pointers on spacing of the plants, how deep to plant them and how long it would be before they could be harvested.
For some of the Soldiers this was their first experience with planting but for others like Sgt. Kenneth Wayland planting the garden brought back memories. "I grew up on a farm in Illinois so I used to do a lot of planting," said Wayland. "I'm glad to have something to get me out of my room and to watch the corn, cabbage and carrots I planted grow."
As the planting of the Warrior Garden neared the end, Knott called the group of Soldiers and volunteers together for a group picture and addressed the Soldiers. "Remember," said Knott, "These are your plants. They are here for you to take care of. For you to watch grow and to harvest.
"They are your responsibility."