Veterans enjoy family time in Vail |

Veterans enjoy family time in Vail

Sarah Mausolf
Vail, CO Colorado
CVR Vail Veterans DT 7-22-10

VAIL, Colorado – When the improvised explosive went off in Iraq, David Underwood lost the lower half of his arm.

It was the Army major’s family, though, that arguably suffered more psychological damage. In fact, Underwood says the families of wounded warriors are often the ones who are most affected by their loved one’s injuries. That’s why he thinks it’s great that the Vail Veterans Program invited wounded warriors to bring their whole families on rehabilitative vacations this week.

“The kids come to the hospital and see their dad blown up and have to deal with the psychological impact of that,” he said. “So I think it’s important that families get to do things together.”

On Thursday, Underwood and his family glided across a zipline in Wolcott after spending the morning riding horses. For seven years, the Vail Veterans Program has been hosting wounded veterans from across the country.

“We’ve done 18 programs,” founder Cheryl Jensen said. “This is the first time every single wounded warrior brought a family member.”

Underwood and his wife, Malissa Underwood, visited Vail through the program two times before, but this week’s trip marked the first time they brought their kids, 6-year-old Alexandra and 8-year-old Thomas.

“I knew coming out here would be really fun for them,” Underwood said.

Underwood, 40, is currently stationed in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is attending a commander and general staff college. His injury happened in January 2008, when he was walking through a row of abandoned homes in a village south of Baghdad, checking to make sure the area was clear of people before it was bombed. As he walked between two houses, an improvised explosive device in a window went off, hitting his wrist and taking off the front of his leg. Surgeons have since amputated his arm below the elbow but Underwood hasn’t let that stop him from being active with his kids.

During a four-day trip ending today, 15 warriors recently wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been participating in horseback riding, fly fishing, zip-lining, white-water rafting and other outdoor activities. For some of the veterans, the trips to Vail offer a chance to escape the hospital.

That’s the case for Rick Zimmerman, 25, an Army specialist who was injured in Iraq in 2007. He had been stationed in the gunner area of a humvee when a roadside explosive went off, shattering the right side of his skull. Zimmerman said the trip to Vail is a nice break from his frequent doctors’ appointments at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.

“Being a patient is like a roller coaster ride,” he said. “You get up and feel good about yourself, then something will come along and take you back down. Sometimes it’s harder to get back up than others. These trips help with that.”

For some veterans, the activities help restore some normalcy to their lives – and show their kids that they can do many of the activities they enjoyed before their injuries, Jensen said.

As Erik Dimmett, 30, got fitted for a harness for zip-lining, his 9-year-old son became concerned.

“He’s worried you’re not going to make it because your leg is too heavy,” his wife, Carmen, said.

Dimmett assured his family that he could zipline with what his 5-year-old daughter calls his “robot leg.” Less than an hour later, he whizzed across the canyon as his family cheered.

The retired U.S. Navy bomb technician lost his leg in 2006 at a base in Iraq when a mortar detonated near him. He traveled from San Antonio, Texas, to participate in the Vail Veterans Program for the first time. He was pleased to see that the program caters to families, something that is uncommon among veterans’ programs.

“You’ve got a family and you normally go on family vacations,” he said. “To bring them with, it’s great.”

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or

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