Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Soldier's Story: Wounded in Active Duty, One Soldier Makes It His Mission to Ease His Fellow Troops' Return to Civilian Life through Recreation

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

A Soldier's Story: Wounded in Active Duty, One Soldier Makes It His Mission to Ease His Fellow Troops' Return to Civilian Life through Recreation

Article excerpt

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LT. COL. DANIEL DUDEK was wounded in July 2007 while serving with the 4th Stryker Brigade out of Fort Lewis, Wash. After four months in rehabilitation, he was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit, or WTU, at Fort Lewis.

With the mission of developing "ongoing sports and recreation plans as an enhancement for rehabilitation of injured service members," NRPA's WTU program is a partnership among local park and recreation agencies, U.S. Olympic Committee Paralympics, and military installations across the country. Through building relationships with these installations, the program's goal is to assist in the rehabilitation and recovery of injured service members.

The program was created following the Walter Reed Army Medical Center's 2007 report on the care of wounded soldiers. Its purpose, Dudek says, is to heal and return soldiers back to active duty, or to help them transition to civilian life.

Motivated to do more than simply attend medical appointments,

Dudek says he felt it important to stay busy and work on staff with the battalion. After working as the Fort Lewis WTU executive officer for nearly a year, he was allowed to assume command of the battalion.

We asked Dudek about the mechanics of running his local WTU program, and what a job well-done looks like to him.

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PARKS & RECREATION: What were some of the primary challenges you faced in taking over command this unit?

LTC DANIEL DUDUK: Being paralyzed below the knee has not really played a large role in challenging what I can or cannot do in this job. I do get tired throughout the day and have to limit how many events I put on my schedule, but I have all the support I need to do everything that's necessary.

The most challenging event for me was having the patience to wait to find out if the Army was going to support my request to continue on active duty. It was a big relief when I found out that I was going to continue my service to my country.

P&R: What is the most satisfying thing for you at the end of the day?

DUDEK: This is the most complex and trying job I've ever had during my 18 years of service. At the end of the day, I always feel there's more to do, and I have to just stop what I'm doing and go home. So, the best thing for me at the end of the day is getting to spend time with my beautiful wife, Megan. All the good I've done is because of her incredible support to me.

P&R: How is this project, and this relationship with NRPA, helping wounded U.S. military men and women who have returned from active duty?

DUDEK: When dealing with the ill, injured, and wounded soldiers of these wars, we have much great success in recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration for each soldier when we involve sports, specifically adaptive sports.

We've partnered with the on-post assets, such as Morale, Welfare, and Recreation, NRPA, and the Paralympics to execute a smaller version of an adaptive sports program with only six events (sit volleyball, wheelchair basketball, disc golf, strength and conditioning, aquatics, and cycling/spinning) during the duty day. We also do some extra-curricular events late at night or during the weekends--rowing, equestrian riding, river rafting, skiing--but the extra-curricular events are not as regimented.

As soldiers, we all love being outside and we really love competition. However, we don't always have the right adaptive equipment to get at the right kind of rehabilitation. We don't always have the right sports knowledge and coaching available for each soldier's needs or the right facilities.

You never know what's going to resonate with a soldier, but it's awesome to see when the light bulb goes on in a soldier's mind to turn the "I can't" into "I can."

NRPA is a great resource to get at those specific areas for the smaller populations of soldiers who can best benefit from the support the organization provides. …

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