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PARK CITY -- Soldiers healing from wounds of war came to Park City this week for just the right kind of therapy. The new Army approach aims to help mend their minds and spirits, along with their bodies.
The National Ability Center pioneered adaptive sports for the injured, ill, and disabled. This week they teamed up with U.S. Paralympics to host 32 wounded warriors and their families. The soldiers got out of their comfort zones and onto the ice for sled hockey Thursday morning.
Sergeant First Class Ronald Cousan of the Oklahoma National Guard was grinning as he paddled his sled to the sidelines. When asked if he's ever played sled hockey before, he replied, "Negative. Never. First time, but it's a blast."
Sled hockey is a bit like battle with a puck, but the current mission for these soldiers is unlike any before.
Cousan and his fellow reserve soldiers are in a Community Based Warrior Transition Unit based in Utah. They come from seven regional states. They're on active duty as they transition back to other assignments or their civilian lives.
Cousan suffered a severe shoulder injury from the wear and tear of multiple deployments. He recently returned from back-to-back deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. This week, he's feeling progress and says the "can do" attitude is coming back.
"When it comes to things I thought I was afraid to do because of my injury, I got them done," Cousan said.
Most fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both. Their wounds range from multiple injuries from roadside bombs and combat trauma, to cancer, and shoulder injuries. All week, they're learning new sports they can play as they heal.
This get together, a muster in Army lingo, gives soldiers face time with their case managers, doctors and commanders. Their spouses and families are included in many activities.
A lot of the soldiers are getting a hang of the game. There's a lot of cheering, a lot of energy on the ice. That's the idea behind this kind of therapy.
Major Scott Reading is the commander of the Community Based Warrior Transition Unit in Utah. He said, "Getting out, being active, rediscovering the 'can do,' as opposed to ‘what I can't do anymore' changes their focus."
The Warrior Transition Units give soldiers and their families the physical and emotional support they need to adapt. The system transformed how the Army cares for wounded warriors.
Specialist James Crabb of the Kansas National Guard was injured by an IED in Iraq in 2007. He calls this the best muster ever.
"It's really worked out great," he said. "A lot of healing."
Crabb was injured by an IED in Iraq in 2007. He says camaraderie is the key everywhere: on the battlefield, on the ice, and in therapy. It's safe here to let the emotions flow.
"Both the good and the bad. You spend a lot of time pushing it back down. Just letting it out is real cleansing," he said.
In recent years, the National Ability Center increased programs for wounded warriors 400 percent. In the year ahead, the center will dedicate even more time and resources, as the need among our fighting men and women continues to grow.