News: Wounded warriors maintain fighting spirit on the mat
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Stephanie Widemond
FORT STEWART, Ga. - The Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program helps to build a soldier’s resiliency so that he can endure and bounce back from whatever situation he may find himself in. The five pillars of strength: social, emotional, family, spiritual, and physical, form an optimal foundation for recovery.
“I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, and the IED detection dog alerted me. I thought, ‘the IED is between me and the dog’, but when I turned it was right next to me. I don’t remember much except that I was hurt, but I didn’t know what happened until later,” recalls Rick Cicero, a former paratrooper who volunteers much of his time helping others recover.
He had been a military paratrooper and civilian police officer. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan as a military contractor when he lost both his arm and his leg on his right side. His recovery took place at the Tampa Veteran’s Administration hospital.
“I went from the guy that runs into fires to the guy that’s stuck in a wheelchair—a victim waiting to happen,” he said.
After three years of recovery and coming to the realization that he can still be the guy that runs into fires, he put together an adaptive combatives program and goes around helping wounded warriors on the road to recovery.
“He cares about fellow warriors and their recovery both psychological and physical,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Perry, command sergeant major for 1st Battalion, 306th Infantry Regiment, 188th Infantry Brigade. He lost his leg in Dec 2010 while deployed with 101st Airborne Division. He said that his key to recovery was aligning himself with the right people.
“During recovery, I saw people that looked like me who just felt sorry for themselves, doing the bare minimum in physical therapy and they weren’t recovering. Then I saw those that were happy and continuing on with life and had aspirations, I aligned myself with them,” he observed.
He says aligning himself with those who had a positive attitude sped his recovery and made him more resilient. He has competed in several Army 10-Milers, and continues to lead from the front during physical training sessions with his battalion.
“People like myself and Rick show others that they can make it. He is an inspiration,” said Perry.
Perry recently met Cicero on Fort Stewart when Rick was conducting an adaptive combatives course for recovering warriors. Cicero believes that the greatest thing he ever did was say yes when the Veteran’s Administration asked him to start working with veterans.
“Some soldiers get caught in the rut of recovery, it’s not over its just changed, so embrace the difference and move forward with it,” challenged Cicero to those he encounters.
“If you can raise your arm, you can start exercising muscles to learn to block,” demonstrated Cicero. He helps coach wounded warriors in adaptive combatives.
“We want to show our soldiers that just because they are in a fight and get injured, they are not out of the fight. If they get shot, or if anything is not fully usable, they can still survive and still help their buddies,” further explained Sgt. 1st Class Brian Christianson, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 3rd Infantry Division combatives program. He said the techniques taught by Cicero trains anyone on how to still be able to defend themselves.
Cicero started the program in Tampa, Fla., and wants to make it available to all Soldiers.
“Fort Stewart has a large population of wounded warriors, and it’s a great place to kick off the program,” said Cicero. He demonstrated some of the adaptive moves to a few soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion, showing them that their limited abilities were not a hindrance to recovery.
“In the hospital, sometimes the therapists have no idea how to deal with a situation. Rick gives a whole other perspective, in healing both the mind and the body, giving those recovering the ability to regain control,” said Capt. Angela Saunders, a nurse case worker at the Warrior Transition Battalion. She said programs like this help give soldiers’ confidence back because Cicero focuses on what can be done instead of what can’t.
“I may not be able to do it the same way, but with a different approach I can generate power with strikes even with an amputated arm.”
“Very few people have the bravery to get on the mat and do what you do,” he said of the combatives group that was there for their level two certification training. He went on to teach a small group of recovering soldiers how to block and trap. He said his goal was to let the soldiers know that they were not victims waiting to happen.
The main goal of teaching adaptive combatives is to train all soldiers to use what is available to make them viable.
By helping warriors focus on their strengths instead of their perceived weaknesses, Cicero helps the Army maintain a resilient force.