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Service Above Self

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

ATLANTA - Chuck Wesson always figured the Army would be his life, but almost overnight, Wesson went from being in a military uniform to being in a wheelchair.

Wesson is one of over 400 Wounded Warriors who’ve come to Atlanta’s Shepherd Center for treatment in the last four years.

Watching Wesson in Shepherd Center’s Beyond Therapy program, he’s hardcore, willing to do almost anything. The 34-year-old North Carolina native says he got the drive from 14 years in the U.S. Army.

“I loved the military. I loved the Army,” Wesson said. “The military teaches you you can’t look back, you can’t change anything that’s already happened.”

But the Sergeant 1st Class and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom wasn’t hurt in battle. He was struck by a hit-and-run driver one night last June at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

“I remember waking up in the ditch, trying to get out and I couldn’t. I didn’t know that my back was broken…All I knew was that I’m trying to get up and I can’t,” Wesson said.

Paralyzed from the waist down, Chuck came to Shepherd Center and met Tina Raziano, Shepherd’s military services coordinator.

“I remember specifically asking him, ‘How are you doing?’ And he said, ‘I’m great! I’m fine.’ And I just remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh, this is going to be a doozy,’” said Raziano. “Because it was not a normal response for someone who just had a catastrophic injury. Usually, it’s a completely different response.”

And it wasn’t until Chuck left Shepherd Center, and went home to Charlotte that his real battle began. Though he wouldn’t let on when Tina called.

“He’d say, ‘Oh, things are great!’ The same thing. Very generic: “It’s OK, I’m doing great!’ But he didn’t realize I was talking to his mother at the same time and she was giving me a completely different story,” Tina said.

Worried, Tina went to Charlotte and convinced Chuck to come back Shepherd for the SHARE program. It’s designed for combat veterans physically and psychologically heal.

“The transition is hard. It’s very hard,” Wesson said.

“A lot of them don’t like talking about their feelings, but when they’re around each other, they tend to open up and actually talk a lot about what’s going on with each other,” said Raziano.

SHARE helped Chuck make peace with leaving the Army.

“That Friday, I was in a uniform and I took my uniform off, and then that night, I got put in a wheelchair and never put the uniform back on,” Wesson said.

Wesson is now SHARE graduate, soldiering on. He says Shepherd helped him rewrite his story and he’s ready for the next chapter.

“It’s always how do I get better, how do I get better, and I think that’s been my focus,” said Wesson said. “Because I want to be completely independent, so to do that, you’ve got to learn.”

Chuck is still in the Army. He’s going through the medical evaluation board process. He’s hoping to go back to school and get a counseling degree.

One day he hopes to work as a mentor or peer-support counselor for other Wounded Warriors.

For the record, he wanted to let the ladies of Atlanta know that he’s single.

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