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Army Wounded Warrior perseveres despite COVID-19

Image of Picture of military personnel wearing a face mask and shooting a bow and arrow. Click to open a larger version of the image. Army Staff Sgt. Gene Calantoc, a member of the Soldier Recovery Unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, prepares to loose an arrow during the Virtual Army Trials archery event held at Buck and Doe’s Mercantile in San Antonio, Texas, March 10, 2021. Calantoc is one of several Soldiers at the SRU competing to be selected to represent Team Army in the 2021 DoD Warrior Games (Photo by: Daniel J. Calderón, Brooke Army Medical Center).

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The COVID-19 pandemic introduced changes and challenges that continue to affect the way of life for everyone. Through perseverance, the Army is using innovative ways to deal with the "new normal."

One group in particular that are making the adjustment are wounded, ill, and injured service members in Soldier Recovery Units across the Army. The month of March typically finds some of them preparing to gather at Fort Bliss, Texas, to participate in the Army Trials. However, this year the Army Recovery Care Program, keeping safety paramount for participants and staff, executed the Trials virtually.

For soldiers like Army Staff Sgt. Gene Calantoc, the pandemic added an extra challenge to an already daunting one. Calantoc, assigned to the Brooke Army Medical Center SRU, is approaching the one-year anniversary of an accident that changed his life.

One of his hobbies is riding a motorcycle. "My accident happened on March 29, 2020 at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri," said Calantoc. "I set up a group ride that day with my motorcycle organization.' Six of us went for a ride that day. I was the road captain and leading our group when we approached a route that had a very steep hill where I got hit by a truck." This led to an above-the-knee amputation of his left leg.

Born in the Philippines, his family moved to Hawaii and then to San Diego when he was 13 years old. Joining the Army was a life-long dream of his because of the influence of his uncle who served in the Philippine military.

"I've been in the Army for nine years as a 12N (Horizontal Heavy Equipment Operator)," said Calantoc. "I chose to be an engineer because that MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) interested me."

Calantoc said he likes staying busy, and he has proved that by participating in every event the Trials have to offer. "I heard about the Warrior Games at the CFI (Center for the Intrepid)," he explained. The CFI is where Calantoc was fitted for his prosthetic and is currently undergoing rehab. "I have always been an active person and I love to compete. My motivation to participate (in the Army Trials) was knowing that this is a good opportunity to get my foot in the competition."

Competing in the Army Trials is tough enough, but when you have to do it virtually, it adds a new dimension of change. Athletes do not physically meet with the other competitors and develop a "team camaraderie," which is an extreme motivating factor they use to push themselves to their limits.

For Calantoc, a first time Trials competitor, his focus has been on something different; something soldiers, particularly noncommissioned officers are used to. "The challenging aspect competing virtually is not receiving enough training before the trials," he explained.

The ARCP looks at their overall mission to help those assigned in SRUs to recover and overcome barriers, and aids them either back to their unit, or to transition into civilian life.

"Adaptive reconditioning and sports has helped me with overall rehab by physically and mentally keeping myself busy to prevent myself from feeling any pain," added Calantoc. "Participating in the Virtual Trials helps me overcome some of my pains during the day. My goal is to make it to the Army team."

There are countless examples of wounded, ill, and injured soldiers and veterans who have participated in the Army Trials who found themselves in a more positive place. Adaptive reconditioning and sports, to include these types of events, can be life changing. This can be priceless in times of an ongoing pandemic.

"What I would say to the person who might be considering adaptive reconditioning or participating in the Army Trials is to have fun and enjoy the opportunity to participate in the trials," he said.

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