Mike Pocius, a Navy Corpsman with the 3rd Batallion, 8th Marines, is one of many wounded service members who can attest to the emotional, physical and social needs of wounded men and women returning from overseas. When his Humvee was hit in Ramadi in 2006, he was flown to Bethesda Medical Center in Maryland with severe injuries to his arm and leg. After experiencing more than 20 surgeries on his arm, a 14-hour surgery was performed on his leg in an attempt to restore functioning. When the surgery failed, he was given the option to amputate or to keep trying surgeries. With the support of his mother and then-girlfriend, Kathy, he chose to lose his leg. He was left feeling uncertain about how his life would be affected by his injury, but continued on to begin the painful recovery process with his mother and girlfriend by his side.
Mike had his first experience with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC where he was receiving therapy for his injuries. He was given one of their signature backpacks filled with phone cards, clothes, a portable CD player, and other comfort items to help service members returning from war feel more comfortable in the hospital. Mike recalls seeing the Project begin to grow at Walter Reed. "Everyone was being given their backpacks. I didn't know they did anything else until the Disabled Sports Project came into the hospital."
He remembers being approached by one of the staff members from the Wounded Warrior Disabled Sports Project for the first time, shortly after he learned to walk using his prosthetic leg. The Disabled Sports Project offers snow skiing, water skiing, canoeing, golf, cycling, and rock climbing to injured service members and their families, facilitating a positive self-image and attitude to combat the depression and alienation many face during and after the physical healing process.
Given a list of interests with boxes to check, Mike browsed over a large range of events from which he could choose to participate in through Wounded Warrior Project. "They asked me if I wanted to go skiing," Mike says, cracking a smile and reliving the feeling of being asked to go skiing so soon after losing his leg. "I had never been on skis, even when I had both legs. They told me to come to Breckenridge and 'just try it'." Kathy signed him up for a trip to Breckenridge, Colorado. She had to check the box for him because his arm injuries still did not allow him to hold a pen.
With the help and encouragement of the adaptive ski instructors, Mike tried skiing for the first time. "I went flying down the mountain on two skis ... I started loving it. I could do something I had never even tried with two legs, and I did it with a bunch of guys that were just like me. I felt like, I can do anything now. Kathy bought him skis and boots that Christmas.
WWP recognizes and actively addresses the crucial focus that must be given to mental healing as well as physical healing, both for those who have been wounded and for those who have continued to care for them beyond the capacity of the GI Bill and after the therapy sessions at the hospital are over. It goes beyond the minimal government assistance soldiers receive after they are discharged, making for a more personal and relevant experience of mentally and physically healing while getting back on their feet and out into society. The mission statement of the Wounded Warrior Project is a simple message with a sentiment that is echoed throughout many organizations supporting veterans in our country: "To honor and empower wounded warriors." This is a humble understatement of the organization's efforts and growth to date.
Although the premise for the organization started with their signature program, the "Backpack Program," in a basement 5 years ago, WWP has grown and worked to provide exponentially more than simple recognition …