Sunday, August 24, 2003

Wounded pilots support own kind

By Kimberly Hefling
The Associated Press

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. - Apache helicopter pilots Emanuel Pierre and Stuart Contant trained together, deployed together and then crashed together in Afghanistan.

The rehabilitation from their injuries was painful, but overcoming the mental hurdles was worse. When wounded 101st Airborne Division soldiers started returning from Iraq - some on gurneys, others without limbs - Pierre and Contant found a way to cope. They started a support group for wounded soldiers.

Twice a month, soldiers gather at Blanchfield Army Hospital to share their fears about possibly having to find a new career and adapt to life with their injuries.

"One of the reasons I was so adamant about getting this thing off the ground is that a lot of the units are not used to dealing with this stuff," said Pierre, a chief warrant officer from New York City who has back and leg injuries. He's able to walk now, but still goes to therapy twice a week.

Contant, a chief warrant officer from Boca Raton, Fla., has a spinal cord injury and nerve damage from the waist down. He can't maintain his balance at times and goes to physical therapy six days a week.

He found himself getting grouchy and discouraged, and was surprised how much better he felt after talking to someone with the same injuries.

"I had already known a friend of mine that had a spinal cord injury, and I saw him walk the same way I walked and try to keep his balance," Contant said. "It was pretty cool to see that and we talk about what our problems are. We laugh."

Support groups for wounded soldiers have been tried in the past, but this group is a bit different because it also brings in resource people with knowledge of legal and veterans issues, said Terry James, who served 22 years in the Army and now works at Fort Campbell as a counselor.

Another soldier in the group is learning to write with his left hand because part of his right arm was amputated.

"You've got to realize what this guy was doing before this happened," Pierre said of the amputee. "This was a soldier who would run through the woods, jump through the woods, shoot, throw, move, communicate.

"This is what he's been trained to do and what has become his life, so he can't do it any more. So what are we going to do with these 18- and 19-year-olds whose lives are being drastically changed?"

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