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Elizabeth M. Collins, Defense Media Activity - Joint Assignment Desk
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.- 05.13.2010 It was just an average day of work for Army Staff Sgt. Eugene Ethengain IV, whose job in logistics meant he worked with the Air Force to unload planes coming from the combat theater into McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.
Average, that is, until he was pulled out of the aircraft and onto the conveyor belt and then onto the ground.
That was in March 2007. While initial X-rays showed that nothing was wrong, Ethengain was in so much pain he could barely walk. A couple of months later, a wrist specialist ordered MRI exams and found that Ethengain had fractured his left wrist, torn a tendon, and injured four disks in his lower back and three disks in his neck.
"It was actually a shock," he said. "It happened so fast. It's just like if you're riding your bike and you hit something and fall -- by the time you realize you're falling, you're already on the ground, and it's like, 'Ugh! Well, I can move. I must not be too bad.' It wasn't even 24 hours later, I was dragging my leg around. My back was hurting really bad."
Three years later, Ethengain has graduated from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane. He has undergone back surgery, and he competed here in archery yesterday at the inaugural Warrior Games for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans, even as he prepares for neck surgery in June. Ethengain also is on the Army's sitting volleyball team at the games.
Assigned to the warrior transition unit at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center at Fort Meade, Md., Ethengain, who shoots with a compound bow, found out about the games less than a month ago, and instantly knew he had to try for the gold in archery.
While the games mark his first time competing in archery and he didn't do as well as he would have liked, he has loved the sport -- as well as bow hunting -- since childhood, he said. It also doesn't strain his injuries; the hardest part, he said, is walking to the archery range and bending over to pick up stray arrows.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "It's like my last 'Hooah' for the Army, because I don't know if they're going to let me stay in the Army or whether I'm going to be retired.
"I don't really want to retire," he added, "but eventually, at some point, we all have to get out of the uniform and transition to become a civilian. I'll make the best of it."
Ethengain said he hopes one day to join the Army's archery team or its Paralympics archery team.
In April, Ethengain joined other soldiers for several days of training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. That training was the first time he had picked up a bow and arrow since his accident. It was like riding a bike, he explained -- something he could never forget.
Although he was eliminated before the final round of the competition at the Warrior Games, he said had a great time.
"I had fun anyway, and I knew I had good competition," he said. "I think I did really well, but I could have [done] better."
The games also have given him something other than his surgery and medical appointments to focus on.
"It was good to get away from the hospital and get a chance to shoot," he said of the practice and training he participated in prior to the games.
Ethengain is member of the Nanticoke Indian tribe, he said, and his ancestors have hunted with bows and arrows for centuries -- so archery is in his blood. He said "it feels good" to carry on the family tradition. In fact, the father of 11 and grandfather of three said, he most looks forward to completing his recovery so he can take his sons hunting and teach them about their heritage.
At the Warrior Games, Soldiers swept the recurve-bow category in archery. Sgt. Michael Lukow, Staff Sgt. Curtis Winston and Sgt. Jeff Anderson took home the gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively. Sgt. Robert Price came in third in the compound-bow category, while Marines took home the gold and silver.