By Ben Sherman, Fort SillJuly 12, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla. (July 12, 2012) -- Soldiers recovering from wounds have taken up golf as part of their adaptive sports therapy.
All of the Soldiers in the Warrior Transition Unit, or WTU, have sustained injuries, often multiple physical injuries, that make normal mobility difficult.
Those injuries make any kind of exercise or sports participation even more challenging. One of the programs that the WTU developed for Soldiers to stay active is the Adaptive Sports Therapy program. It includes sports activities such as wheelchair basketball, archery and swimming. Recently, they have added golf.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Baker, a WTU cadre leader, knew he wasn't the only Soldier who played golf. So he and other wounded warriors went to the WTU command team and proposed that Soldiers be able to do their physical training requirement by playing golf as part of the Adaptive Sports Therapy program.
"Our WTU commander, Captain Mike Carroll, said if we could put it together we could have an adaptive therapy golf program," said Baker. "That's the whole thing about adaptive sports therapy, you learn new activities and heal at the same time."
Soldiers began to work with Ernie Altic, golf professional at the Fort Sill Golf Course, to develop the adaptive therapy program. He wants the Soldiers to see the golf program as a way to begin to exercise.
"I don't care what kind of players they are right now. I don't ever want to turn anybody away, whether they want to just get out there and kill time. At least they are out there, and it may be something they want to do," he said.
Baker said his last tour in Iraq chewed him up pretty good, but golf has helped him recover.
"After my first back surgery, I played a couple of rounds of golf and the back just wasn't letting it happen," said Baker. "The first time I played, literally, if I made it off the tee box I was happy. I was going through physical therapy and one of the therapists told me that I could play golf, but I couldn't do the full back swing anymore."
He recently played golf with four other WTU Soldiers: Staff Sgt. Justin Stone and Staff Sgt. Felix Fisher, Sgt. Joshua Sawyer and Spc. Jared Page. Some of them had played golf for many years, while a couple of them have taken up golf because they can no longer participate in other sports.
Stone had played golf when he was in junior and senior high school and was a good player.
He suffered multiple injuries after his squad was hit by eight simultaneous mortar attacks on their combat outpost in Laghman Province, Afghanistan.
"I have bilateral ulna nerve damage on both arms. I lost about 30 percent of my grip in both hands. So golf helps me reconstruct my grip again," Stone said.
He also suffered traumatic brain injury, neck injuries and a torn meniscus in his left knee.
"Being able to use golf for PT is pretty awesome for me. It keeps me challenged mentally. Physically it's very good because it keeps me outside getting good Vitamin D from the sun," he said.
Sawyer said he played a little golf but nothing serious before he came to Fort Sill.
"I used to run cross-country, but now I've got a broken bone in my foot so I really can't run until they re-break and reset it," Sawyer said. "Coming out here it's a good way to clear my head, relieve stress and take my anger out on something else," he joked.
"I just play to play, not to make a score," said Fisher. "We all like to play sports and some sports we can't play any more. But at least we can play golf and be with our buddies."
"My injuries are what brought me to golf, because I used to hate it," said Page. "Being young and not being able to play sports, like basketball again, has led me to learn how to play golf. We help each other and it means a lot to me because, otherwise I would be sitting at home, doing nothing."
"We want to thank our WTU command team, because without their supporting us coming out here, we wouldn't be able to do this. We do have our accountability for our participation in the golf program and we appreciate having this opportunity to play," Page said. "We also appreciate all that Ernie and the Fort Sill Golf Course staff have done to help us make this program possible."
Baker put the golf program into perspective.
"A lot of guys want to say, 'I can't do this anymore.' Wrong. You can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it. The paralympics are coming and take a look at those guys who compete in those events. You've got guys missing arms, legs and everything else. But they are out there competing. So people can come out here, play a little golf and have some fun along the way," he said.
One of the additional benefits of the golf program is efforts are being made to establish a WTU golf team.
"There's no reason we can't start something on our own," said Altic. "If we've got everybody listed who wants to participate, they can qualify for a WTU golf league. The requirement will be you play X number of holes each week, turn in a score card and get it signed."
"Once we've established a handicap for everybody, we'll have a list of names with their handicaps. That's not to say you can't every once in a while go out and do the scramble thing or whatever. For our purposes, we will have an organization in place," Altic said.
The goal for many of the Soldiers is to establish a Fort Sill WTU golf team so that they can compete against other posts and even host a tournament at Fort Sill.
"Fort Stewart (Ga.) has a WTU golf team. Fort Gordon (Ga.) and Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston (Texas) does also. Fort Campbell (Ky.) even has two WTU golf teams and that is their PT each week," Baker said. "What these posts are doing is having wounded warrior tournaments with a team from each post. That's what we want to get involved in. We have the backing of the WTU command team and even the [commanding general] here at Fort Sill. So we are excited about the prospects of developing our own team."