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thedrifter
05-02-08, 09:22 AM
May 2, 2008
Troops build trail to heal, give thanks

Wounded Warriors project geared toward blind, deaf children

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

WAIMANALO — As wounded combatants, Marines and sailors from the Kane'ohe Bay base have been on the receiving end with people showing their appreciation for all they've done. Yesterday it was their turn to give.

The Wounded Warrior Company from Marine Corps Base Hawaii is building a sensory trail at Manawale'a Riding Center based at Da Ranch in Waimanalo. The trail will benefit the children and adults who go there for therapy.

It's all part of the wounded's recuperation that includes physical therapy, counseling and outings such as hiking, deep sea fishing and barbecues at the sandbar in Kane'ohe Bay. During recuperation, the members of the Wounded Warriors also have received movie tickets, a 50-inch plasma television, Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3, said Marine Sgt. Aaron Quiroz, who injured his wrist in an accident.

For the first time since the company was formed about a year ago, the troops decided it was time to show their appreciation for the community that's supporting them, Quiroz said while building the trail yesterday.

And although the troops were a little reluctant about doing the manual labor — cutting down haole koa trees with machetes — the reward was better than any Xbox 360, he said.

"Seeing the children when we left here, our hearts were filled with pride and joy," Quiroz said. "That's what it's really about."

Yesterday was the second time the Marines and sailors volunteered at the riding stable to build the 6-foot wide, quarter-mile trail. The sensory path will be used primarily by children who are blind or deaf, but others who are more advanced also will get a chance to enjoy it.

The stable is on two acres of land off Waikupanaha Street. It is surrounded by farms and another stable. A new covered arena was built there recently with funding from Lions Club International and the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation.

The stable belongs to Ben Char Jr., 57, who is president of the center's board and founder of the therapeutic center. He operates a repair shop to support his family and contributes to the operation of the center, a dream of his since he was a young man.

The company decided as a group to take on the project, said Lance Cpl. Matthew Carhart, 21. The men liked the idea of being outdoors and active, said Carhart, who was shot by a sniper in Iraq. But the concept was new, forcing the Marines and sailors to think differently about their recovery, he said.

"It's good to be on the receiving end but it's good to give back, too," Carhart said.

The Wounded Warrior Company formed loosely about two years ago after 35 Marines were injured in Iraq during a two-week period. It was formalized about a year ago. Members' duties are to help one another through recovery from noncombat injuries, long-term illnesses, battle wounds and post traumatic stress, said Maj. Kurt Schmidhamer, the company's commanding officer.

"The Marine Corps prides itself in being all about teamwork," Schmidhamer said. "The wounded Marines and Corpsmen share a common bond. It allows them to talk with each other and work through their problems."

The Marines learned about the trail from Army Capt. Chris Marvin, who is part of a similar unit at Schofield Barracks called the Warrior Transition Unit. Marvin is the volunteer veterans outreach coordinator for The Mission Continues, which works to place wounded and disabled veterans and service members into volunteer position.

The volunteer positions are meant to develop citizen leaders, Marvin said.

"There comes a point in a lot of veterans' recovery process when they feel they don't want to be a charity case anymore," he said. The Mission Continues program that operates out of the Center for Citizen Leadership wants to be ready to step in and help the wounded make that transition, he said.

The Manawale'a Riding Center, a branch of the Ko'olaupoko Lions Club, is one of 15 nonprofit groups that Marvin works with.

Patti Silva, a certified instructor at the riding center, said the Marines are doing in two days what they have been only able to dream about in the six years they have been operating. At the end of the day, the mission was not quite done but another day should wrap it up, Silva said.

"The Marines are quite the godsend," she said. "They're very strong. They're motivated, stay on track and they're focused."

Ellie