For wounded servicemembers, a two-wheeled gift of mobility
By JOE GROMELSKI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 17, 2012
ARLINGTON, Va. — Army Staff Sgt. Alejandro Jauregui lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Easter Sunday.
He faces a long rehabilitation, a path he will eventually walk on prosthetic legs, but he regained a bit of mobility on Wednesday when he and 25 other wounded warriors received Segways during a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
Jauregui’s rapid move toward mobility is possible because of a new twist in the 7-year-old Segs4Vets program, which has furnished hundreds of wounded servicemembers with Segways. Previously, riders needed to be able to stand on prosthetics to operate the scooters. But a new modification to some Segways allows the operator to be seated, which will let Jauregui use his new ride as he waits to receive and get acclimated to his prosthetics.
“I didn’t think [getting a Segway] would go this fast,” Jauregui said, “because I don’t even have my [prosthetic] legs yet.”
The Segway is “not like a typical wheelchair,” said former Army Capt. Stephen Fleming, who was wounded in Iraq in 2004. Fleming received his Segway two years ago and now helps train new recipients. “You’ve got to move it yourself. Lean into it, just trust it. That’s the main thing we have to tell these guys.
“We do not let them out of our sight until they’re comfortable in the process. Our whole priority is to enable somebody to get out and be mobile, not to wind up back in the hospital [with an additional injury].”
Jerry Kerr, co-founder and president of Segs4Vets, said he’s amazed how they’ve been able to provide Segways for troops so soon after they are injured.
“It speaks to the work that’s being done in the military medical community to get these guys and gals back up as quickly as possible, get them reintegrated into society as quickly as possible, [with] as little down time as possible,” he said.
Jauregui said he didn’t want to waste any time wallowing in self-pity.
“Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to get your legs back,” said Jauregui, “so you might as well get back on it and figure out how you’re going to move again. Stay motivated.”