Indiana State University Newsroom

Honoring and empowering Wounded Warriors: University hosts event for injured service members, families

October 1, 2015

For two years after Army veteran Chris Wiese came home from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury, he isolated himself inside his house and did nothing. Nothing that is, except drink - and relive the horrors of war, especially the blast from an improvised explosive device that ended his second tour of duty.

"I didn't care about myself when I came back from overseas," said the Champaign, Ill. man who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. "I just felt like the world did a 360 on me, and I couldn't trust the world. I was scared to go out in public because I was scared what (was) going to happen."But now, the Wounded Warrior Project is helping Wiese recover and begin, however slowly, to once again live a more normal life, he said during a recent Wounded Warrior event at Indiana State University's Sycamore Outdoor Center.

"They help me get out of the house and actually do things," Wiese said, his girlfriend Shardai Shelton at his side. "What we're doing right now is almost like a free vacation."

A fellow veteran with the Wounded Warrior Project helped Wiese find a new friend - his service dog Kilo. The two played fetch at Sycamore Lake. Shelton rode the Outdoor Center's zip ride. The couple's children played games, and a clown made them balloon animals.

More than 40 veterans and their families attended Indiana State's fifth Wounded Warrior event. All but the first one have been open to veterans' families. Make no mistake about it: Families suffer along with their veterans.

"Family definitely helps because they support me," Wiese said. "I would never have come to functions or anything by myself."

"It means a lot," fellow Army veteran Tim Carter of Indianapolis, who tallied three tours of duty in Iraq, said. "It allows my family to connect with other families and me to connect with other warriors to just share our experiences and share things that we've overcome. Not only has the soldier endured a lot but the families have as well."

Talking with other injured veterans at Wounded Warrior events about their shared experiences also aids recovery, said Wiese, who is coping much better than in those first two years following his 2010 return stateside.

Still, it's much easier for him to talk with others who have served than with "ordinary people off the streets," he said. "They look at me with all kinds of different weird looks. I get these things in my head like they think I'm a killer or they don't know what I'm talking about or I'm telling lies. You feel more comfortable talking to (veterans). You feel like family."

Alberto Lopez, outreach coordinator with Wounded Warrior Project, said the organization's goal is simple.

"To honor and empower Wounded Warriors," he said. "Getting them out and interacting in the community with other people, other veterans who have served and other resources in the community, like Indiana State University, and just letting them know what resources are out there for them to utilize."Don Rogers, professor and chair of the department of kinesiology, recreation and sport and director of the Sycamore Outdoor Center, said the 80-acre wooded and lake-filled facility near Brazil hosts many events for students and the public, but "none of them is more special to us than the Wounded Warrior program."

Rogers, a Navy veteran, said the university "took things up a notch" this fall at the request of the Wounded Warrior Project office in Chicago, which wants to use the Indiana State event as a model for the rest of the country.

Hence the clown, games and Boy Scouts providing a variety of activities for children.

The event, and others like it, also helps Indiana State students planning careers in recreation therapy, recreation management and sport management.

"It's not something you script and overly direct. You set things up for them to have opportunities. You put them in there and you kind of get back out of the way and let them have the experience," Rogers said. "Later when they talk about it, they are so exuberant. They are clearly touched by it. There's no doubt they see the educational value. It helps reaffirm their commitment and passion to a field where they can do this sort of work."

While several Indiana State University students helped out at the event, Nicholas Mason, a senior recreation and sport management major from Fishers who has served in the Air Force, was on hand primarily as an observer in preparation for leading a university-run Wounded Warrior program next spring.

"Being a veteran myself, I've seen firsthand how going overseas and coming back home can affect people differently," he said. "It's good to have these kind of outlets where you can be around people who've sort of experienced the same thing and be able to talk to them and just not keep it all bottled up inside."

Photo: - Chris Wiese, an Army veteran from Champaign, Ill. prepares to ride the zip ride during a Wounded Warrior Project event at Indiana State University's Sycamore Outdoor Center Sept. 27, 2016. (ISU/Katy Etnier)

Photo: - Shardai Shelton of Champaign, Ill. enjoys a Wounded Warrior Project event with her children (from left), Shianne, Ashton and Aldan Wiese Sept. 27, 2015 at Indiana State University's Sycamore Outdoor Center. (ISU/Katy Etnier)

Photo: - Adam Schill entertained children by making balloon animals during a Wounded Warrior Project event for injured service members and their families Sept. 27, 2015 at Indiana State University's Sycamore Outdoor Center. (ISU/Katy Etnier)

Media contact and writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-2237-3743 or