OTTERBERG, Germany – Doctor appointments, medical tests and counseling sessions can get tiresome for wounded soldiers, particularly for a person accustomed to the grimy, rough-and-tumble world of warfare.
Though often surrounded by well-meaning individuals, wounded troops can find it a lonely, bumpy road. Some withdraw, growing frustrated and perhaps a bit awkward around people, especially those who haven’t experienced war.
“These guys help each other,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Agunos, a squad leader for a band of wounded soldiers in Baumholder. “They know what each other are going through.”
This week more than two dozen soldiers assigned to a Warrior Transition Unit in Germany spent Thursday afternoon horsing around horses. For these and family members of some, it was therapeutic just to escape the antiseptic environment they now find themselves immersed in.
“It’s a stress reliever,” said Sgt. Shawn Nelson, an Army medic who was seriously injured in Iraq in 2006.
Nelson, 34, survived a suicide bomber’s attack on an Iraqi police station in Ramadi, though his scars are constant reminders.
“For a day,” he said, “you are not bouncing around from doctor to doctor.”
Instead, he and other soldiers had the chance to bounce around a dusty corral north of Kaiserslautern. Only a couple seized the reins, but all took part in a cookout and spent time with the four-legged residents at Diana’s Horse Farm. Soldiers also pitched shoes and lobbed lassos.
Sponsored by the local Ramstein Mercedes-Benz dealership, the event drew wounded soldiers from Kaiserslautern and Baumholder, many of them combat veterans.
“Equine therapy is very popular,” said Azra Surhio, a military social worker in Kaiserslautern who attended the gathering. “It’s different than sitting in a chair talking to somebody.”
A similar event was staged last year. Staff Sgt. Lydia Kaus, a squad leader for wounded warriors in Kaiserslautern, said more events would be held, depending on sponsorship. A fishing trip is in the offing for next month.
Wounded soldiers “tend to hibernate more in the barracks,” Kaus said. “This gets them out. They get to interact with other folks.”
Spc. Sara Simpson knows both worlds; she helps soldiers assimilate back into society. She also works as a veterinarian technician and spends time at the stable, so she knows the terrain.
“A lot of people just connect with animals better,” said Simpson, sporting a white straw cowboy hat.
The 22-year-old was downrange when she was sent to Germany to deal with an arthritic back and neck. She’s also battling depression.
“Look at this guy,” she noted, petting a horse named Alex. “He’s got hands all over his face and he’s like, ‘whatever.’ Any kind of contact with an animal is good.”