Theodore's World: Vail Opens Slopes To Wounded Troops

« Iran Makes More Threats | Main | Amerikkka Is How They Spell It and Killing Is Their Middle Name »

March 06, 2006

Vail Opens Slopes To Wounded Troops

Department of Defense

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld poses with wounded troops participating in the Vail Veterans Program just before they begin their third and final day of skiing in the program at Vail, Colo. (Photo by Donna Miles)

Twenty-four servicemembers who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan are here reaping the hospitality of a community first established by returning World War II veterans and to schuss down the slopes of this world-class ski resort.

The guests, all patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., along with their spouses or guests, are participating in the third annual Vail Veterans Program that kicked off March 1 and continues through March 5.

The all-expenses-paid program is hosted by Vail Mountain and the Vail community and gives wounded war veterans an opportunity to learn how to ski and snowboard, event organizer Cheryl Jensen said.

"For many of these veterans, the trip to Vail is their first adventure outside the hospital," Jensen said. "This program is all about providing an inspirational experience that focuses on the abilities versus disabilities."

Jensen said the experience is a huge confidence builder for young, athletic troops who are now learning to live with disabilities.

The event includes three all-day private ski and snowboard lessons through Vail's Adaptive Ski Program. The program specializes in providing ski and snowboard classes for people with disabilities. Using specially modified ski equipment, including "outriggers" -- poles with miniature skis attached to them for balance -- the skiers are learning to maneuver through Vail's slopes and trails.

"These servicemembers have been through a lot of trials and tribulations together, but this gives them the opportunity to experience something positive together as well," Jensen said. "They're a really wonderful group and have been tremendously supportive of each other."

Countless volunteers and 25 local businesses and organizations are donating lodging, meals, lift tickets, ski equipment and personal time to make the grassroots effort a success. "Without the community, it just couldn't happen," Jensen said.

Participants arrived in Vail to a hero's welcome from local elementary school children and are getting the red-carpet treatment during their stay. Tonight, guests will ride the gondola to the top of Vail Mountain for dinner at the Eagle's Nest Restaurant, and tomorrow night, the Vail Fire Department will treat them to a homemade lasagna meal at the fire station.

"There is an unsaid promise to protect their families while they protect our freedom serving abroad," said Craig Davis, president of the Vail Professional Firefighters Association. "Inviting the veterans to dinner at our home is the least we can do to pay tribute."

Jensen introduced the Vail Veterans Program because she recognized the value it could bring to wounded veterans. "I knew what adaptive skiing can do for people with disabilities, especially people like these who are healthy and athletic," she said. "Skiing can change their lives."

One former participant told Jensen it had done just that for him. "That's the inspiration for this program, to see that it can make a difference," Jensen said.
Jensen called the program just one small way to show support for the troops. "They've all made tremendous sacrifices for us, and this is an opportunity to thank them," she said.

Rumsfeld and his wife Joyce appeared unannounced last night, joining 24 servicemembers who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan at the top of Vail Mountain for dinner at the Eagle's Nest Restaurant. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived to cheer them on and congratulate them for their accomplishments.

He chatted one-on-one with the troops, posed for photos around the room and offered up encouragement and thanks to all.

"I'm having a blast!" said Army 1st Lt. Frank Washburn, a New York National Guardsman who lost the front half of his foot to an improvised explosive device near Samarra, Iraq, last May.
"This is the most fun I've had since I've been injured," agreed Army Staff Sgt. Joe Kapacziewski. "It was awesome!" Kapacziewski received extensive leg and arm injuries in Northern Iraq while serving with the 3rd Ranger Battalion. While doctors were able to save his leg, 18 pins are holding it together as it heals.
"Completely exhilarating" was how Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Worley, a corpsman who lost most of his left leg in Fallujah, Iraq in September 2004 and has a fused right ankle, summed up his skiing experience through the program.
Army 1st Lt. Ryan Hollin, a below-the-knee amputee who was wounded in Balad, Iraq, agreed. "His coming here to support us physically shows that he appreciates our sacrifices," he said. "It's one thing to say you support the troops. But his actions show that he really means it."

Wild Thing's comment.......
I love it so much when things like this happen for your troops. They deserve to be thanked and appreciated so much.

Posted by Wild Thing at March 6, 2006 01:45 AM