Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Beloved Arlington National Cemetery

This article was in the Washington Times yesterday!

God Bless our soliders ..this day and always!

U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Blair sits tall in a saddle that has been used by soldiers since before World War I. Today he is riding Bud, a jet-black horse whose usual job is leading caissons through the somber funeral ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery With his crew cut and his Marine Corps windbreaker, Sgt. Blair, 34, looks every bit the part of a soldier as he rides down the path at Arlington's Fort Myer. When he dismounts, though, he grabs a walking stick with a Marines logo on it and walks unevenly to the stables.

Sgt. Blair was wounded by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in May 2006. His weekly visits to Fort Myer are part of his rehabilitation to rebuild his legs.

He is among the soldiers who have been taking part in the U.S. Army Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Programs. The program was started at Fort Myer in 2006 by Larry Pence and Mary Jo Beckman, two local former military members and riding enthusiasts.
While therapeutic riding has long been a treatment for special-needs children, the idea of putting injured soldiers together with soldiers and horses from the Army's Old Guard was a new one, Mr. Pence says.

Mr. Pence, a retired Army sergeant major, says about 100 soldiers - many of whom are recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the District - have come through the program. Many participants are amputees who benefit from riding because horses have a gait that is similar to a human's walk.
"Riding helps retrain the muscles," Mr. Pence says. "It accelerates the adaptability to the use of a prosthetic and helps the injured recover more readily."

The program provides intangible benefits, too. Being out in the fresh air, controlling a 1,000-pound animal, working toward a goal and physical activity all contribute to recovery.

"It is difficult to measure the emotional part," Mr. Pence says, "but it is important, and we see it. There is a sense of accomplishment that can dramatically improve a patient's attitude."
Sgt. Blair says riding has given him lots of those benefits.

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