Wounded troops get free Segways in annual ceremony honoring Memorial Day
By CARLOS BONGIOANNI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 23, 2013
ARLINGTON, Va – For Army Sgt. Fioreamante Bernardo, the free Segway he received Wednesday from the charitable group Segs4Vets is more than a fun way to get around. For the triple amputee, it's "a crucial tool."
Bernardo was among 32 severely wounded servicemembers who received the personal transporters during an event held at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
“I’m going to be going to college, and it will help me get around a rather large campus,” said Bernardo, who lost both legs, one above and the other below the knee, and his left hand after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on July 4, 2012.
Bernardo expressed gratitude for the increased mobility he’ll have with his new Segway, without which he figured he would have had to traverse the campus much more slowly getting to and from classes.
Since 2005, Segs4Vets has given away 1,200 Segways to wounded servicemembers, according to Christine Black, a member of the group’s advisory board.
“They transform their lives,” Black said of the Segways' benefit to the recipients. “They’re able to do things that they can’t do in a wheelchair. And they’re able to do it standing up on their prosthetics, which is healthier for them.”
Segways also give wounded veterans a chance to have level eye-to-eye contact, instead of having to look up at people looking down on them in wheelchairs.
“That’s an enormous challenge, and it’s a wonderful thing for somebody who is badly injured to not be in a wheelchair with people looking down on them,” said Black.
Getting out and about to do chores or to go sightseeing with family or friends is also important for the wounded veterans’ well-being, Black said.
Marine Sgt. Robert Blumenberg lost his left leg below the knee and suffered severe internal injuries when he stepped on an IED on March 24, 2012. He said he gets extremely tired in his wheelchair, and can walk only about 300 feet. “So by that point, I’m exhausted … this is going to help me get to wherever I need to go and then have energy to use once I get there.”
For Army Spc. Gregory Hedrick, the Segway will allow him to keep up with his children when they go bike riding. “It helps me out,” said Hedrick who lost his left leg below the knee and suffered severe damage to his left hand, when his vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Afghanistan on Sept. 20, 2012.
Army Capt. Dan Berschinski lost both legs above the knee when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan on Aug. 18, 2009. Although he said he now walks pretty decently with his prosthetic limbs, the medically retired officer said he expects the Segway will be extremely useful for getting around the Washington D.C. area, where he lives.
“I’m certainly limited in my range, so having a Segway increases my range,” he said.
Of the 36 recipients who were slated to receive Segways on Wednesday, 30 lost at least one limb and many lost two or three. One lost all four, Black said. “We hope that this tool will help them get on with their lives, so they can be more independent and more mobile.”
The number of servicemembers with multiple limbs amputated at Wednesday’s event underscored how perilous conditions still are downrange, even as the war in Afghanistan is winding down.
“We are seeing, unquestionably, more catastrophic injuries,” said Black. “The American public needs to understand that our military personnel are still at war and are still getting injured in very high numbers, and they are going to live with these disabilities for the rest of their lives.
Jerry Kerr, President and co-founder of Segs4Vets, noted that it cost the nonprofit about $9,700 per Segway. But the cost, he said, would be much higher if it were not for the many volunteers who give their time training the wounded veterans how to ride them.
Kerr said in a release that Memorial Day “is a time when the nation remembers those who have given their lives for our country. We urge Americans to remember not just the fallen but also the injured who face a lifetime of disability and challenge.”
Army 1st Lt. Jason Pak shakes hands with retired Air Force Gen. Ed Eberhart after receiving a Segway vehicle during a Segs4Vets giveaway event at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, May 22, 2012. Looking on is retired Marine Col. H.C. Barnum, a Medal of Honor recipient.
CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES