Veteran one step closer to normalcy
VAIL – Dennis Walburn kept interrupting his own story. He did it on Chair 4 and at Mid-Vail. He was shifting attention to the 23 other Iraq war veteran amputees who are skiing at Vail this week – and the many more who are not.”All these other guys’ stories are the same,” said Walburn, who skis with one ski and two outriggers. “This is just an example of what many guys have gone through.”So here is an example. Walburn didn’t have to go to Iraq. He had a desk job with the National Guard at the Pentagon, and another officer from his group was chosen to go to Iraq. But Walburn talked to his wife, Brenda, and decided he should be the one to go.
“It got to my heart a little bit that I was sitting at a desk and (other soldiers) were going over,” he said.Walburn, a 47-year-old lieutenant colonel from Woodbridge, Va., went to Iraq on a six-month deployment in March 2005 as part of a group that was introducing new battlefield equipment to troops.On May 28 in Mosul, he went out on patrol with an infantry unit, testing a new Stryker armored vehicle. The troops found a vehicle on an offramp matching the description of an insurgent’s car, but it wasn’t the right car. Still, the commander decided to search all of the cars that were stopped on the offramp.”That’s when the bomb went off,” Walburn said.
He felt the blast wave and then intense pain. Eight Iraqis and one U.S. soldier were killed in the explosion. When Walburn woke up in Germany, he found out he had lost his leg.”It didn’t surprise me,” he said.Walburn said he doesn’t second-guess his decision to go to Iraq in someone else’s place.”It was the right thing to do,” he said. “I wish I still had my leg, but I don’t regret my decision.”
‘Better than normal’Walburn and the other veterans were skiing as part of Vail Veterans Week, which brought the amputees to Vail for the third year from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. They go home today.Skiing with his wife and Vail Adaptive Ski School instructor Nikola Nemcanin, Walburn took runs down Overeasy and Swingsville on Saturday morning before taking a break at Mid-Vail. This is his third ski trip after his injury. He’s been to Breckenridge and Wintergreen in Virginia this year. The ski trips are important for amputee veterans who are trying to work back to normalcy, he said.
“You’re scared to even go out of your room at first,” he said.Walburn has several prosthetic legs that allow him to walk or swim. He has also taken up kayaking at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he is now an outpatient.For Walburn, skiing means he’s one step closer to his previous life.”Life’s getting back to normal,” he said. “Better than normal because before I couldn’t afford to ski Vail.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado