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Heroes by the dozen

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VAIL, Colorado – They’re the largest group of heroes you’ll ever see in one place.

The largest group of wounded warriors ever hosted by the Vail Veterans Program is in town right now.

They’re called heroes on a relatively regular basis, because they should be. Sometimes it’s a bit much, but they almost always appreciate it.

“It’s good to see that people care,” said Brian Robbins, a U.S. Marine and wounded warrior in town this week.

Packed around tables in the Larkspur restaurant Wednesday morning, one conversation centered on whether they’d rather be blown up or shot at.

“I would rather be shot at,” Robbins said. “They’re not good shots at all.”

Robbins was shot at, but it’s the bomb that got him.

The enemy is getting much better at bomb building, Robbins said.

Robbins was an engineer in Afghanistan. His job was to use a metal detector to look for bombs, leading troops in a single file line behind him.

“I always figured I’d get blown up,” Robbins said.

He was proved correct Nov. 2, his “alive day.” On foot patrol in Kajaki, he stepped on an improvised explosive device, and it blew off part of his right leg.

Their squad lost three of its nine engineers the same way.

Life is for living

They’re young and they talk about life and what they’d like to do with it. They also talk about their alive day, the day they got hit and didn’t die. It reminds you to live while you’re alive.

Ask one of them about their alive day, and they’ll likely tell you.

William Kyle Carpenter, 22, U.S. Marines, was a long way from his native South Carolina. He and another Marine were on guard post on a roof in Marjah when enemy insurgents chucked a grenade up there. The Marines in his outfit say he jumped it to shield them from it.

Carpenter can’t remember, and Lance Cpl. Nick Eufrazio, who was with him, can’t talk. He suffered a serious brain injury.

Carpenter woke up a month later in Bethesda Naval Medical Center in

Maryland.

“I didn’t remember anything,” Carpenter said. “I was very disoriented.”

The military has three years to decide whether he gets the Medal of Honor.

He was injured 15 months ago. Since then, he’s been through 30 surgeries and has four to go. These days, he lives at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“My job changed from infantry to patient. My job is to get better, so I can get back to the Marines,” he said.

Exploding the unexploded

Turn around and you spot Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Causey and his petite, adorable wife Kathleen.

In Afghanistan, Aaron specialized in explosive ordnance disposal. He exploded unexploded bombs.

As he inched toward a bomb he was supposed to explode, he stepped on one he’d missed. It didn’t miss him. That was six months ago Wednesday.

He, too, woke up in Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

His wife, Kathleen, was back home taking college classes. She was in front of her computer when the knock came on her door. Military personnel dressed in civilian clothes asked if they could come in.

It was 10:50 a.m. You don’t forget those details.

“I thought they were lost, but as soon as they asked if they could come in I knew what they were there for,” Kathleen said.

Aaron had been badly hurt, they said, but they didn’t provide many details.

She called his family. They wanted details, too, but she didn’t have any. She conjectures now that the Army delayed releasing the report because it was not clear Aaron would survive surgery.

He did, and has survived 75 other surgeries. Three surgeries a week for a month. Now he’s down to two. Both legs are gone at the hip.

Kathleen jumped on a plane for Germany to accompany Aaron back to the U.S., riding in a C-17 cargo plane.

“He still had Afghanistan in his legs, sand and rocks that were blown into them in the explosion,” she said.

He spent two months in the hospital, part of it in an induced coma. The man had been in the military for 11 years, and it took his mother to bring him around.

“She talked to me like I was in real trouble, and that woke me up,” Aaron said smiling.

The thing is, these guys can do anything they want, and they want to do everything. Skiing and snowboarding, obviously, and they rock climb, kayak, ride bicycles, motorcycles and ATVs, all with adaptive equipment

“Whatever they want to do, they do,” Kathleen said.

Snow sports help wounded veterans learn what they can do, instead of thinking about what they cannot, said Cheryl Jensen, who started the Vail Veterans Program with Maj. David Rozelle.

The Vail Veterans Program started with one group for one week. Now it’s two one-week winter sessions and a summer

session.

The trips to Vail don’t cost the veterans or their families a dime, but they’re not free. Jensen is always looking for donations and volunteers.

Jensen is one of those irresistible forces of nature. She put the program together nine years ago. Since then they’ve brought hundreds of wounded warriors and their families to Vail.

“We’ll continue as long as there’s a need,” Jensen said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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