Recuperating on the Rhine

Thomas Warner
LRMC Public Affairs

***image1***Wounded Soldiers coming from downrange are getting a pick-me-up from a retired Marine.

A crash course on fine wines and a view over the Rhine River into
France are part of a unique diversion from the rigors of injury

The Wounded Warrior program, created by retired Lt. Col. William Black,
has allowed more than 650 Soldiers to enjoy quality rest and relaxation
while recovering from maladies or injuries incurred while deployed.

Day trips to diverse locales are good tonic for Soldiers spending short periods in the KMC.

“These day trips provide a very important, albeit unconventional,
ministry for the Wounded Warriors housed at Kleber Barracks,” said
Chaplain (Col.) Glenn Woodson, one of the key facilitators of the
program. “Many of these Soldiers are coming directly from harm’s way in
Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Black started the WWP three years ago with limited funding and
often money from his own pocket. The Chaplain’s Corps took an interest
in the program and began donating cash to help cover the costs of the
random ventures.

“Col. Glenn Woodson is the driving force behind what the chaplains put
into this,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Randy Wren. “Glenn has taken a lot of
people on trips and the program was really needed to help get some of
these people back out and active.”

Marine Corporal Tim King was injured on duty in Iraq when a truck
trailer collapsed and pinned him underneath it for more than 10
minutes. A successful rehabilitation will allow him to regain use of
his left arm and hand, but there is severe nerve damage for now.
Following treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, he spent
several days at Kleber Kaserne with many other wounded troops.

“We communicate with our families and friends, but it gets lonely being
here,” he said. “Most of us would at least like to be out doing
something while we are away from our units. And getting back with those
people we serve with is the goal most of us have.”

King and John Harrington, both from Mississippi, were on a recent jaunt
through the lower Rhine Valley. The two Marines quickly bonded with
Alabama native Michael Bradford, an Army private, while traveling on
one of Mr. Black’s tours.

“I started off bringing magazines and newspapers to injured servicemen
so they could have something to read while they were here,” said Mr.
Black, who works during the week as a senior intelligence analyst with
the 66th Military Intelligence Group. “The money was coming basically
out of my pocket. Our first actual trip cost less than $500 in 2003.”

The WWP has now morphed into longer, more involved excursions which
might include a wine tasting event, three square meals and beverages.
Visits to castles in Heidelberg, Kusel or elsewhere have also been on
the agenda and the trips usually are within German borders.

An afternoon trip, including a cruise for 20-30 people on the Rhine
River paddlewheeler and other activities, will  cost about $2,700,
but it’s worth it when Mr. Black sees the injured Soldiers relaxing.

“Once the chaplains got involved, we were able to offer more on each
trip and we’ve increased the number of people who can go each time,”
Mr. Black said.
The most recent trip originated in the Rhine River valley town of St.
Goar, where Mr. Black’s party of 27 people boarded a paddlewheel boat
and floated south for nearly three hours.

With four people at each table in the boat’s dining area, soldiers can
be heard discussing their military pursuits. The serene sound of a
riverboat wake and pristine juxtaposition of the Rhine banks can’t
change the fact that they are all active duty.

“They’ve been through so much already, if only by being in a combat
zone,” Mr. Black said. “I organize these trips as a way of giving
something back to them that might have been lost. We are trying to
bring some normalcy back into their lives.”

A spiritual aspect, too, is not lost on men and women along the way.

“The Soldiers know that these trips are chaplain-sponsored,” Woodson said.
“We have prayer before we leave and prayer before meals. God is very much at work on these Wounded Warrior trips.”