Chris Chatwin, right, and his weekend guide Brian Autry ride the Morningside chairlift Sunday at Steamboat Ski Area. Chatwin was one of many wounded warriors participating in the second annual STARS & Stripes Heroes Camp.

Photo by Ben Ingersoll

Chris Chatwin, right, and his weekend guide Brian Autry ride the Morningside chairlift Sunday at Steamboat Ski Area. Chatwin was one of many wounded warriors participating in the second annual STARS & Stripes Heroes Camp.

2nd annual STARS & Stripes Heroes Camp a chance for veterans to bond, recreate

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— On the slopes, it’s hard to tell that Chris Chatwin hasn’t snowboarded in more than a decade. He rides around with relative ease.

And on the surface, it’s nearly impossible to realize Chatwin also is only about a year removed from an adult life spent completely in the military, or that the 34-year-old was shot twice in the leg during an ambush in Afghanistan in 2001.

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Raymond Sautter, right, gets a snow bike lesson from Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports volunteer Randy Wert on Sunday at Steamboat Ski Area. Sautter is a Vietnam veteran.

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Chris Chatwin, left, met Randall Steiger at an adaptive recreational sports camp in Moab, Utah, last year. With their military background, the two instantly bonded, calling each other brothers.

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Steven Hancock was able to get into a sit-ski at the second annual STARS & Stripes Heroes Camp for the first time since severing his spine in April 2010.

Chatwin — like many of the others taking part in the second-annual STARS & Stripes Heroes Camp during the weekend — also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. At about the same time Chatwin was diagnosed with PTSD, he found out he has sarcoidosis, an inflammation disease that attacks his heart, brain, eyes and lungs. It’s a byproduct from six tours' worth of breathing dangerously polluted air in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sure, Chatwin’s many years of military service haven’t dealt him the strongest hand since he retired from that life at the age of 33.

Recreational programs like the STARS & Stripes Heroes Camp, though, ensure that people like Chatwin move on to the next phase of their lives — post military — with confidence.

“We’re looking for long-term results,” Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports program director Craig Kennedy said. “We’re looking for measurable outcomes. So five years down the road, if we work with the same client, (we want to know) what has happened to them. Are they more confident and comfortable around crowds? Has their PTSD decreased?”

The camp is something Kennedy saw as a way for wounded warriors — those injured post 9/11 — to build camaraderie after some of the most difficult times of their lives. Kennedy said it’s also a way for the elders not labeled "wounded warriors" to bond with and lead those recently retired from military life.

The funding helps, too, with dollars and grants through organizations like the Wounded Warriors Project and Warfighter Sports helping make recreational camps a possibility.

Chatwin’s PTSD still lingers. The military was all he was good at since he enlisted at age 17. But programs like STARS and other adaptive recreational services have helped Chatwin meet people like Randall Steiger, another snowboarder in their STARS & Stripes group.

Steiger and Chatwin haven’t known each other for very long, but the two act like brothers, with their military background their bond.

“It’s hard to meet people when you’re diagnosed with PTSD,” Chatwin said. “When I got out, I got sick right after. This is what this trip is for — getting me out doing stuff. This guy right here, he will be my friend for life, and vice versa.”

A more noticeable disability

Unlike Chatwin and Steiger, Steven Hancock’s post-military disabilities are much more noticeable.

Hancock, of Pueblo, has been forced to get through life in a wheelchair since April 2, 2010, after he fell five stories onto his back in a propelling accident while serving in Japan as a military policeman. The fall severed his spine, broke his leg and arm and left him with a minor brain injury.

Hancock also has PTSD. With the help of his guide dog, Buddy, and the right mix of medication and therapy, the disorder is manageable.

The STARS & Stripes Camp also gives him an opportunity he usually doesn’t get — to be around and recreate with those living with the same disabilities.

“I like it,” Hancock said. “Most of my friends aren’t in chairs, so just being around other people in chairs and with disabilities is kind of like your extended family. You just feel comfortable around people who are injured, as well.”

The camp is an opportunity Hancock wasn’t afforded a year ago. He spends most of the year competing on the national and international level for shot put and discus but was unable to get in a sit-ski during the inaugural STARS & Stripes Heroes Camp last year.

Being in a wheelchair came with some extra pounds, but since his gastric bypass surgery, he has shed 100 of those pounds and was able to take on the mountain for the first time since his accident.

Some days are better than others, he said. But he also sees improvements.

“It’s been on and off,” Hancock said. "Everyone goes through their own phases. Me, I found throwing discus and shot put. That’s kind of my calling card right now, throwing. I like to do stuff year round, so being able to do the winter sports is beneficial.”

Building confidence, happiness and everlasting relationships

Throughout the weekend, Craig Kennedy saw a lot of recurring faces from STARS’ previous winter and summer recreational camps, and he loves it.

The STARS & Stripes Heroes Camp may only last one weekend, but if Kennedy can get the message out that STARS’ door is always open, he knows he has been successful.

“In the past, it’s always been we’ll have one event, and a lot of these guys just go to one a year and they’re really happy for a week, but then they come home and they crash,” Kennedy said. “They aren’t happy at all.”

There are about 6,000 suicides each year from the troops coming home overseas, he said, and it’s a number that circles around in his head.

He wants those long-term results from STARS' camps to wrestle that number down. More than anything, he wants the wounded warriors from the weekend to go home with happy thoughts, confidence and relationships that won’t recede.

“A lot of the ones this year came back with big hugs and calling each other ‘brother,’” Kennedy said. “It’s absolutely huge. You get a lot of long-lasting relationships out of this camp, for sure.”

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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Comments

Zac Brennan 7 months, 1 week ago

Mr. Kennedy, you are to be commended on the outstanding program being provided to our Vets. They have made great sacrifices for the rest of us and any repayment to them will never be enough. But you and your volunteers are making wonderful strides in the right direction! Thank you.

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Eric Morris 7 months, 1 week ago

What does invading Afghanistan and Iraq do "for the rest of us"? What does droning American citizens in Yemen "do for the rest of us"? How do we ever "repay" someone for repelling in Japan 60 years after that war? I agree helping injured people, no matter how they were injured, is wonderful work. The US military is nothing more than an imperial force. It does nothing to defend our freedoms. It, and its collaborators the CIA, NSA, DHS, and TSA, do more to kill people and broach freedoms around the world than any other entity (ies). The terrorist threat is a sham. Before you get too bent out of shape, I was part of the imperial occupying forces recently in Kuwait, with a few days for good measure in Iraq.

The best thing we can do for the Troops (and future vets) is end these military adventures around the world, including occupying Japan, Germany, and Korea more than half a century on.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 7 months, 1 week ago

Mr. Morris. First, thank you for your service. We are a better country because men and women elect to serve their country. ! am disappointed to see you chose to link to an article about a wonderful organization, that helps not only wounded vets but countless others with physical and cognitive issues, a rant about your beliefs regards the military and terrorist threats (or apparently a lack thereof). I believe you would have been better served to send the paper a letter to the editor espousing your opinions. Also my best guess is the families of victims and victims of Fort Hood, Boston Marathon, Benghazi might beg to disagree with your assessment about terrorist threats. PS: Best I can tell the United States for all it's foibles may be the least imperialistic hegemon in the history of hegemony

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Scott Wedel 7 months ago

"... occupying Japan, Germany, and Korea more than half a century on."

Those countries have free elections and can ask/require us to leave. We have military presence in those countries because they want us there. The purpose was to protect those countries from the region's military powers.

The US presence in Germany is now more as a forward base to allow the US to have quicker response to Africa and the Middle East.

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jerry carlton 7 months ago

Oz I agree with you again.

Eric I agree with you from Korea on but If we had not responded to Pearl Harbour, and you are young enough you would be speaking German or Japanese. WWII was the last war that was fought to win and the last one the US won.

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john bailey 7 months ago

Eric , thank you for your service you have my upmost respect for that . I am sure most would agree that with whats going on in our world today , its best to take the fight to their back yard and not ours. we have enough infighting amongst us here.

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mark hartless 7 months ago

Eric is right.

The US military is WAY over-used, WAY over-funded, and WAY too far from the homeland where it belongs. It has been almost continually engaged in war since 1941 and has not won one since 1945. Pretty sad record for a "superpower", if you ask me.

We had absolutely NO business going into Iraq. Iraq was a counterweight to Iran. Now Iran is developing nukes and has no counterveiling force in the region to put any sort of drag on it's doing so. We have de-stabilized that entire region and everything we did in Iraq will be dust in the wind in way less than a decade. The only lasting legacy of that war will be the terrorists that were recruited because of our meddling. What a total screw-up.

When asked why we were in Afghanistan a friend of mine once correctly retorted that it was because "we apparently own niether a history book nor a topo map." All the lives and treasure we pissed away in that "armpit" of the world will be down the drain five seconds after the last marine boards the plane out.

Far too many conservatives let their patriotism cloud their thinking and they are led away from sound, libertarian philosophy. They love to quote Jefferson but forget it was Jefferson who said "Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none."

And while those on the left used to object on principle to those wars while the "hated one" was President, they seem to have forgotten those "principles" since their messiah took office. This tells me they had no such principles to begin with, they just wanted to bitch about Bush.

Killing people, breaking their stuff and quickly returning home. THIS ALONE is the job of a military. To the extent that we stray from that we fool ourselves and enrage the world.

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Eric Morris 7 months ago

I do not accept thanks for my "service." Whom did I serve? What did I serve? I should thank the taxpayers for helping to "service" my debts and avoid other ones through a generous and partially tax free paycheck and free schooling. Don't delude yourselves into thinking people join the military for patriotism and service. It is a job, and a destructive one at that. Never mind calling them all heroes.

Did you thank Nidal Hasan, Robert Bales, and Timothy McVeigh for their service? All those in the military who have committed sexual assault for their heroic service? The drone operator who murdered a 16 year old 'murican in Yemen for his service? The expertly-trained Ranger who killed someone who did make a financial sacrifice to "serve", Pat Tillman, for his service? What about Chelsea Manning? We thank her for selfless truth-telling service by torturing her at Quantico and locking her up in Leavenworth. I'm sure she is being thanked.

Read Iliana Mercer about the "terrorists" in Bhenghazi. Eric Margolis about the myths of the expansive Al Qaeda. Two alleged murderers in Boston as terrorists?

Read about the put down of the uprising in Korea in the 1980s that was allowed by the US military. "Force projection" into Africa doesn't sound like empire? Sure, I'd be speaking Japanese if not for marines still on Okinawa.

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john bailey 7 months ago

so you admit to wanting a job to further yourself at tax payer expense ? sounds familiar, hum, what you couldn't do that on your own, weak man weak....

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john bailey 7 months ago

well said , Tricia , and to the Wounded Warriors Project.

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