If you knew retired Marine Tom Nugent's story, you might think him unlucky. As a corpsman, Nugent's job was to stabilize the wounded. But Nugent ended up needing the repairs.
He sustained his first injury in a fire fight in Liberia. He had the same problem most young soldiers, airman and seaman have when they get injured early in their careers -- if they become disabled they have to live forever on very low wage disability. So Nugent worked tirelessly to get better and stay in the Marines. In fact, he recovered so well that he was later deployed to the first Iraq war where his UH 46 helicopter got shot out of the sky. This time Nugent's injuries were permanent.
Still injured, Nugent and 26 other wounded warriors cycled about 100 miles around central Pennsylvania this week to remind their country that disabled veterans are still valuable to their communities, their families, and each other.
Nugent belongs to an organization based in Oak Island, North Carolina founded by Bob and Debra Racine. A 501(c)3 non-profit, Team Racine provides all the equipment, travel expenses, and often the motivation for a wounded warrior to ride. In Nugent's case, when he pulled his car over and asked what the cyclists were doing, the Racines hauled a bike out of the trailer, duct taped Nugent's pants leg so that it wouldn't get caught in the derailleur and helped him re-learn to ride a bike.
Team Racine consists of a handful of staff members -- none of whom paid -- including Air Force Staff Sergeant Andy Moore. At work he advises US Army combat commanders on the use of air power. When Moore isn't doing that he's Team Racine's equipment specialist keeping every bike in tip top shape and every wounded warrior outfitted with what they need.
Moore works for free because he'd hate to limit resources when serving the warriors that comes to ride, "Essentially wounded vets can show up to us pretty much naked without a dollar in their pocket and no bike and we'll see that they have everything: attire, protective equipment, a decent hotel, food, everything but alcohol." Andy explained that most of the vets that come to them take such potent prescription combinations that it's unwise to give them additional substances without knowing how it would interact.
And they get results. Since Nugent began cycling with Team Racine he's gotten off 30% of his pills. That's important to Moore because most of their wounded warriors he helps had traumatic brain injuries and Moore fears they're ineligible for transplants, even though the toxic levels of drugs in the blood streams can eventually cause organ failure. Turning to exercise instead of pain killers is one way to postpone need the transplant that they'd never get.
Sergeant Major Bernie Fuller rode with the warriors the same day I did. A master fitness trainer about to retire he wants to get involved, "Injuries shouldn't stop you. I should say pain shouldn't stop you. You've got to keep the squeaky hinge going." Fuller thinks these guys -- many without a limbs or the use of limbs -- engaging in physical activity together is equally important, "This is like a band of brothers and when you come to the end of your rope or retire in the military, it's about what you liked about the military. It's about esprit de corps and unity."
Retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bob Racine learned this for himself by getting involved in another of the many wounded warrior projects in the country. When he and his wife, Debra, spun Team Racine off from one of the other groups he wanted to "rehabilitate people physically and emotionally."
And that's just what former Black Hawk Pilot Retired Chief Warrant Officer 2 Skip deGaray knows they are doing. DeGaray has spent more than a decade recovering from the loss of one leg and crushing damage to the other and now flies civilian air ambulance missions. DeGary believes his role as a wounded warrior is helping the "newly disabled get back into life." He remembers that going from bedridden amputee to member of society isn't easy. "You're a young buck living on the edge... I never thought there was an in between. I thought there was dead or alive." It's this in between that deGaray struggled to accept. It's not just learning to walk with a prosthetic, it's "when you don't look normal, when adults pull their kids back, society's not made for handicaps."
If you're a wounded warrior and want to learn about joining Team Racine, or if you'd like to contribute or you community can host a ride check out their website: TheWarriorRide.org/index.html