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Disabled veteran finds solace in shooting; A different type of rehab

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, November 10, 2012

He knew the lieutenant for five hours.

But a tattoo on his right bicep ensures he’ll remember him for the rest of his life.

READY — Seckel holds his shotgun while on the range. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Tim Seckel, 39, of Newark recalls the incident like it was yesterday. Seckel, called Pops, was a Calvary Scout in the U.S. Army. He was about a year into a tour for Operation Iraqi Freedom and serving in Baghdad when an attack on his Humvee rendered him 100 percent disabled and killed 1st Lt. Jonathan Edds. It was Aug. 17, 2007.

“It was 12:15 at night,” Seckel recalled. “We just got a brand new lieutenant (Edds). We were doing a ride. I was supposed to be gunning that night. But I was better with night vision so I was driving the Humvee.

“We were going through a neighborhood in Baghdad, what we call mohallas. The first Humvee ahead of us went through a T-intersection. Then I went through. I saw a trash pile so I went around it and an EFP, which is bigger and better than an IED, blew up.

“It blew up about 5 feet from the Humvee. It missed my head by about 3 inches. It blew me up into the radio mount.”

The blast also hit another soldier in the Humvee and injured his back. But Edds took the brunt of the explosion.

After the explosion they were in a firefight for about an hour. Seckel was paralyzed, stuck in the middle. He was also blinded from the flash of seeing the explosion with night vision goggles on.

“Bullets were bouncing off the Humvee and landing on me,” Seckel said.

He finally crawled through the filth on the streets, away from the Humvee, and another soldier grabbed him and dragged him to safety.

The medic, who they called Band-Aid, tried to resuscitate Edds, but he was pronounced dead as soon as they got away from combat.

Edds was only five months into a 15-month deployment. He left a widow, Laura, a pharmacy student at Auburn University, behind to mourn.

Seckel had met him only hours before that fateful time after midnight.

“I got these tats so I’d never forget,” he said.

CLAY PIGEONS – Targets and shotgun shells sit on the ground. Veteran Tim Seckel, of Newark, uses shooting as his therapy. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

MESHING WITH CIVILIAN LIFE

Seckel grew up in Crowley. He didn’t join the military until the ripe age of 32.

“I wanted something different in my life,” he said. “I wanted to do something that mattered. It was after 9-11. I wanted to make a difference.”

The biggest fight of his life might have started after his injury.

“When I got injured in Baghdad, they told me I would never walk again,” Seckel said. “I’ve got spinal injuries – rods, pins, plates, screws all up my back. PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), TBI (Traumatic brain injury). I’ve had two surgeries, nerve relocation.

“When they told me I would never walk again, it was like, ‘You don’t tell a calvary scout he’ll never walk again.’

“I was in a wheelchair, a walker, then a cane.”

Now he doesn’t even use a cane.

“People look at me now and might not think anything is wrong because I have all my arms and legs,” Seckel said. “I can walk without a cane. They don’t know about the spinal injuries. You can’t wear a hat on your head that says ‘I have PTSD.’”

The effects from PTSD and TBI don’t go away. He tried to explain what PTSD is like, even though he said it’s different for everybody.

“Imagine 10 people in a small room all talking to you at once, and you can’t say anything,” he said. “They are all talking just to you and you have to give each one your complete attention – to all 10 at one time. You get anxiety. You get nervous.”

And the TBI affected his memory.

“I can’t remember high school or a lot of other things before I joined the military,” Seckel said. “It’s hard to do simple things. It’s like an elementary school student trying to learn how to do brain surgery. It’s a constant struggle. When you top that off with physical ailments it’s extremely tough.

“I’ll be in rehab the rest of my life. I still need to undergo more surgeries.”

A DIFFERENT TYPE OF REHAB

Seckel joined the military to make a difference. He still is, but just now in a different way.

Seckel works with Defenders of Freedom, a group that sends care packages to troops overseas. It also helps out with daily needs of disabled soldiers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. There are more than 2,500 disabled vets in the Metroplex-area alone. He also gives motivational talks on how he learned to walk again.

And also, almost by chance, he’s devised a very different type of therapy for disabled veterans. Almost 500 acres of wooded hills make up Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds. Located near the northeastern corner of Wise County, off Farm Road 51, the sprawling scenery is Seckel’s wide-open therapy room.

“It started out shooting sporting clays with my son (Grant),” Seckel said. “He started getting into it and we thought it would be cool to bring out other disabled vets.”

One day Seckel brought Grant out to Fossil Pointe to work on a science project for school. He was doing a project on the velocity of ammo. It soon ended up that Seckel would start an experiment of his own. They met owners David and Maryam Niederer. They made a deal that if Seckel volunteered some hours at the grounds working at the firing range, he could bring out disabled veterans to shoot clays.

It’s been a success.

“What I found is when I brought other vets out here they are calm, at peace,” Seckel said. “A veteran that has PTSD or TBI or any physical ailments, when they have chaos controlling their lives, they feel out of control. But when they’re out here. They get to use a gun, they get to blow up stuff, break stuff. They’re in control of chaos. Just maybe for the two or three hours they are out here they’re in control of the chaos.

“I’m not a therapist by any means. I’m not a doctor. But I see some of the effects it has on disabled vets. They are happy when they’re in complete control.”

It’s also important to give some of the disabled vets a chance to spend time with others in similar situations.

“We need to get them out of the house,” Seckel said. “One of the major problems with vets nowadays is not getting out, just staying at home and getting depressed.

“They don’t want pity, just the opportunity to get out and enjoy themselves. A lot of time they don’t want to get out because they don’t want to be around a lot of people. But out here, you’re not around a lot of people. You’re just shooting and enjoying time with another buddy who’s been in the sandbox.

“Civilians can’t understand trying to sleep and getting mortared five times during the night, or sitting in the sandbox in 120 degrees in full battle rattle. People just don’t know.”

David Niederer said he’s seen first-hand how good it’s been for the veterans. They’ve brought out groups of disabled veterans about 15 times to Fossil Pointe in the last year.

“The term disabled vet seems like a label that is out of place when describing these guys,” Niederer said. “In some ways they are, and in other ways they aren’t.

“But they really enjoy it. I had one guy’s wife call me afterward because her husband slept the whole night for the first time ever since getting back.”

“We had a guy out here we call bartender,” Seckel said. “He’s got the shakes really bad. He was worried he couldn’t control the shotgun. We loaded him up, and he didn’t shake at all.

“It’s been good. Just need more sponsorships and money to help do this. This is something we have got to keep doing.”

Defenders of Freedom has paid for ammo, while Fossil Pointe has covered the cost of clays and let them use the facility at no charge. But more help is needed to keep the program going. They need an adaptable golf cart to bring out disabled veterans confined to wheelchairs.

For more information or to donate to the program, contact Seckel at timseckel@yahoo.com or Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds at (940) 393-6402 or Defenders of Freedom at www.defendersoffreedom.us.

“A lot of organizations have great intentions, but they don’t have disabled vets actually involved in it,” Seckel said. “What I try to do here is get men and women and their families to get out and see there are other avenues of working through things.

“And if it wasn’t for vets of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, we wouldn’t have any of the help that we have for vets.”

As Veterans Day rolls around, we’ll remember and honor vets and their sacrifices at ceremonies around the nation. But for Seckel, his tattoo of Edds shows that he remembers them every day of his life.

And because of sacrifices like Edds, Seckel still hasn’t stopped fighting.

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