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Health and Fitness

Wounded Warrior Team Navy Trials

Lt. Rickey Bennett (Ret.)

It wasn't until the end of a seven-month deployment with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment that Lt. Rickey Bennett's efforts and heartache began to catch up to him.

"I felt that my heart was heavy," said Bennett, a retired chaplain. "I was exhausted from working 20-hour days, seven days a week, four hours of sleep at most and sometimes less than that. I was so tired that I couldn't sleep."

Marines and Sailors from Bennett's battalion were lying in hospital beds all across the country. These wounded warriors were recovering from the perils they had to endure during their stint in conflict.

"We had so many casualties ... those who had lost their life or who were struggling to stay alive," said Bennett. "They were scattered across the United States in various hospitals and towns where their families lived. I was so burdened and heavy with that care and I wanted to be with everyone that was hurting."

After providing countless hours of care and support for our service members, Chaplains may be the ones who are in the greatest need of consolation.

The wounded warrior program provides an atmosphere and opportunity for seriously wounded and critically ill Sailors to experience the healing powers of adaptive athletics that transforms their daily living to be more active, healthier, and happier.

Unlike veterans decorated with a purple heart, Bennett, who attended Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio and currently resides in Aurora Colo., suffers from invisible wounds after his tour with a Marine battalion to the Middle East.

Like many other service members who have seen combat, Rickey was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Although these warriors have no visible injuries, the harrowing things they've experienced have left them internally scarred.

"Sometimes horrific things crowd out exciting good things because the horrific things are so powerful that they can negate the good memories," said Bennett.

During his time in Iraq, Bennett would accompany Marines on more than three missions a week, solely for humanitarian relief.

"Although humanitarian relief didn't usually make the news," said Bennett, "those were the kinds of things that made us feel like we were actually doing something."

One of Bennett's jobs was providing emotional support and encouragement at a casualty collection point where they provided care to Marines, Sailors and Iraqis.

"I was there to hold somebody's hand as they took their last breath, providing them some comfort, encouragement and prayer," said Bennett. "It was really defeating and crushing to experience that again and again and again. The ones that we lost weighed heavy on our hearts, but when you are over there you don't have time to deal with it. You have to keep your head and your heart on the mission."

As Bennett tended to his lost and fallen brethren, he began to lose sight of attending to his own health.

"I was so weighted down that I was not taking care of myself in the process. I was so focused on the hurt around me that I didn't recognize what was happening within myself," said Bennett.

This torment continued for several years and the tragedies started to manifest within Bennett.

"After six years everything became unmanageable in my life," said Bennett. "I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was having flash backs, nightmares, panic attacks, hyper vigilance and hallucinations. I didn't know what to do."

Bennett had served for 21 years and was planning on doing another nine or 10. However, his PTSD couldn't be ignored and something had to be done.

"I got the help that I needed and where that help started was with the Navy Wounded Warrior program," said Bennett.

Since Bennett joined the program in 2012 he found his teammates were an encouraging, influential and integral part of his healing.

"They have a neat sense of humor that shows they're not giving up," said Bennett. "They have not been defeated. They are moving forward, and that's contagious. There are other people who have experienced what I have experienced and it has impacted their lives then and now. These experiences cause us to feel like we are stuck in the past and makes us afraid of the future and therefore paralyzes us in the present," said Bennett.

One of Bennett's many goals for the future is to increase the awareness and visibility of invisible wounds such as PTSD.

"I want to make sure that in the future, wounded veterans of all types get the honor and credit they deserve," said Bennett.