Army aviator Claude Boushey knows a thing or two about being there for his fellow service member. He did it after surviving a helicopter crash in Iraq by returning to combat operations just 18 months later. Now, he is giving back to fellow warriors with the help of a national veterans charity.
Claude and another pilot went down in Iraq in June of 2004. The impact was devastating. Doctors initially told Claude’s family he may not make it.
“I compressed my spine, pretty much broke my back and leg. At the time, I didn’t know my leg was broken. I also crushed my knees into the dashboard as it came off in the helicopter. As we impacted, it rolled on top of me.”
He learned of his injuries, from family.
“My wife actually recalls more than I do. DOD sent for my mom and wife from Hawaii. Basically, they told her you might want to get here. There’s a chance the injuries might be devastating and I might not make it. Those are the details I learned about later from my unit. The hospital couldn’t give out a lot of information, but the little pieces of information she did have, she let me know that based on the MRIs what my injuries were.”
Claude survived, but was told he would never walk again.
“My goal was to recover, of course, and get back in the cockpit. I wanted to deploy again because I thought I owed it to the friends I lost.”
One of those friends actually helped pull Claude from his helicopter.
“I wanted to get back in the cockpit to do my part.”
After several surgeries and a long, dedicated effort to his physical therapy, Claude was walking again.
“After 15 months of recovery, I was back in the cockpit and flew again. I had to get a couple of medical waivers to fly again because of the spinal and leg hardware on my body.”
Despite requests from his family, and an initial opportunity to serve as a trainer at Fort Rucker in Alabama, Claude also took an opportunity to go back to war with another deployment to Iraq.
“I thought I was groomed to be a pilot and help out the Army and ground forces. It’s what they paid me to do, so I think a warrior spirit opened up in me and I followed along with it.”
Before Claude could get back in the cockpit though, his struggles started.
“Physically, emotionally, mentally. I didn’t know if I was going to be medically discharged or if I was going to fly again. I didn’t know what was going to happen to my family. There were a lot of things going on in my life.
“The physical injuries are visible, they could see me on crutches, with my walker, in my wheelchair. But the mental injuries that people suffer from losing friends and reliving the event and combat. You ask why me? What could I have done differently? A lot of things go on in your head during recovery. All those emotions.”
Claude spent another year in Iraq, then retired a year later, after 25 years of service.
“My new mission, after I retired in 2008, was to help those guys recovering because I knew how it felt. Dealing with those roller coaster ride of emotions. I’d been there, done it and I didn’t want anybody else to be in that state of mind. I wanted them to know that someone’s got your back.”
Claude found his way to give back through that veterans charity.
“I started by signing up with Wounded Warrior Project. When I was in the hospital, I didn’t have anybody to reach out to. I didn’t want that to happen to anyone else. I wanted to give back to other warriors going through the recovery process, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, I did it through peer support.”
Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) launched its Peer Support Groups to help injured veterans know they are not alone. By bringing warriors together, they can bond and build their own support structure. Warriors also benefit by growing in the program – learning to mentor other wounded veterans.
“Wounded Warrior Project was so gracious to give me the peer mentor and the Peer Support Group training so that’s been my mission to empower those warriors that need it the most.”
Peer Support Groups meet on a regular basis through engaging events, whether bowling, or dinners, or even a group bicycle ride. WWP facilitates these opportunities, and in the process, facilitates recovery.
Isolation is one of the biggest issues a veteran living with post-traumatic stress can deal with. By bringing warriors together, WWP helps cure that isolation. WWP listens to the warriors it serves. Each year, WWP has surveyed every registered warrior to determine the challenges and successes they each experience. That survey shows four in five warriors registers with WWP for social activities and support. See the survey at https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/survey.
WWP is also growing its Peer Support Groups to meet the needs of warriors. These groups of warriors meet across the country including in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Peer Support groups meet in more than 50 cities across more than 32 states and U.S. territories. WWP invests in these groups, providing training to Peer Support Group leaders to ensure they are prepared to help their fellow warriors along their journey to recovery.
Through these connections, Claude has helped other veterans, while healing himself. But he knows each warrior’s journey is different.
“Wounded Warrior Project is a great organization for life. No one heals the same. Veterans from other wars are still healing. War is hell.”
The challenges that come from that environment manifest differently in each warrior. From the physical:
“Every day I feel a pain in my back, it reminds me of the war. There will always be reminders.”
To the emotional:
“Camaraderie isn’t something you can just pull off the shelf. Camaraderie is talking to other veterans because I connect with them. I usually don’t talk to family about it, just other veterans.”
Claude wants the nation to know veterans from every generation are worthy of support.
“We will never forget about other warriors. Whenever I see a veteran of other conflicts, I always thank them for their service. It’s never too late to show them appreciation for their sacrifices.”
He joined WWP with the goal of growing and helping others. Claude is proud of how far he has come.
“I started out learning and then became a leader. It feels good that I am respected as a Wounded Warrior Project leader and mentor for all sorts of daily issues. Wounded Warrior Project helped me become a peer support leader, which was my ultimate goal.
Claude has reached new heights by serving other veterans.
“It helps me with my recovery. It helps me deal with the emotional and mental issues I go through while recovering. When you help others, you help yourself.”
Read more about peer support groups at https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/peer-support.
Contact: Rob Louis – Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.627.0432
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers – helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more: https://newsroom.woundedwarriorproject.org.