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After mental, physical hardship, Navy nurse takes to the fairway

The sound of gunfire rings out over the soft, manicured greens at Clustered Spires Golf Club, reaching the ears of Aaron and Linsie Ojard.

Linsie freezes and looks at her husband, worrying how he might react. 

He doesn't even flinch.

"Police shooting range," he explains. He comes out to Clustered Spires partially because he knows he'll hear that sound.

"It's a great place for therapy," he said.

Aaron Ojard, a Frederick resident, is a Navy nurse who returned from Afghanistan in 2009 after working in a battlefield hospital's intensive care unit.

An injury cut his time as a nurse short. In August 2009, he suffered a blast injury while riding a bike to his hospital. 

"My boots weren't desert tan anymore; they were bloody brown," he said.

He returned to Frederick County in October 2009. After multiple surgeries, he now has titanium in his neck to replace his herniated discs. But what he saw in the hospital and what he experienced in the 130-degree desert left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"You take the physical injury, put it on top of the PTSD, you shut down real fast," he said.

Ojard said PTSD has been difficult to explain to his two kids, 9-year-old daughter Riley and 14-year-old son Logan.

"When the triggers aren't there, it's berating yourself that gets you down," he said. "You're not good enough as a nurse, you're not good enough as a dad, you're not good enough as a husband."

His recovery started with the community at Mosaic Church in Frederick and his golf clubs.

"Learning to forgive myself put me on a path to recovery," he said. 

Last year, he applied for Sports Illustrated's Dream Tee contest, which gave one winner a chance to play golf with four friends and professional players at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. 

Ojard won the contest and found himself playing with 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, PGA Tour professional Jim Estes and two of Ojard's friends and mentors, James Danaher and Marc Dauphin.

Since that memorable day, he's back to his old ways, spending his recreational time at Clustered Spires Golf Club. 

On a recent breezy afternoon, sitting at the clubhouse porch, Ojard and his wife tried to calculate exactly how many times he's played the course.

"Thousands!" his daughter chimed in.

Ojard picked up the sport in college and brought his golf clubs when he went to Afghanistan.

"It's always been a little bit of an escape for me," he said.

Back in Frederick, he often brings his family along on golf outings. They do a little gambling, he said.

"It's against the law, but I don't care. We play for ice cream cones."

His wife, Linsie, said he's come a long way since his last surgery, mentally and physically. The two were married on New Year's Eve last year at Carroll Creek, "with big old smiles on our faces," she said.

At his current job working in the neonatal unit at Fort Belvoir, they call him "the baby whisperer," Linsie said.

She sometimes worries that certain sounds will trigger his PTSD, but more often, they won't.

Aaron said there was a time when the sound of a helicopter overhead would cause him to lock down, his memories overpowering his sense of the present. But being at the golf course near the shooting range helps him cope with the triggers, he said.

"Repeat exposure ... takes away its strength and power," he said.

The Navy nurse has recently taken up an ambassador role for the Salute Military Golf Association, which connects injured service members with opportunities to learn and play golf. Estes, who joined Ojard on the greens at Pinehurst, is a co-founder of the association.

Since Ojard has played Clustered Spires at least a hundred times, there's only one thing he needs to be concerned about on this course, he said, pointing to his head.

"The most difficult 6 inches on the course is ear to ear."

Follow Sylvia Carignan on Twitter: @SylviaCarignan.

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