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Helicopters Bring Hope to Wounded Warriors

A series of fortunate circumstances brought Henry Gardner to help wounded soldiers develop fine motor skills through the use of radio control therapy.

"I happened to be at the right place in the right time," Gardner said. He is confined to a power wheelchair due to Lou Gehrig's disease, and was visiting his local hobby shop when he noticed a large box full of model car kits with WRAMC written on the side. This acronym, which stands for Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was fresh in his mind. Gardner's son-in-law had just been released from a short stay at Walter Reed after being injured in Afghanistan.

Gardner discovered these kits were a part of a larger project being conducted at the hospital by the Occupational Therapy Department, which uses radio control car kits to help soldiers with lost limbs build their fine motor skills.

Fresh out of an American Red Cross volunteer orientation at Walter Reed, Garner knew exactly how he could help wounded warriors – by teaching them his favorite hobby.

A life-long radio control helicopter enthusiast, Gardner was pleased to hear that several combat amputees had expressed interest in assembling model helicopters, and asked several companies for donations to get the project going.

"What he's doing helps soldiers in many ways," said Laura Hahn, the assistant station manager for the American Red Cross at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "Some need something to fill time, some need things that provide direction and some of them need to learn to use the prosthetic for the fine motor details."

Currently, the project uses flight simulations provided through a computer program called Real Flight. The program features helicopter models appearing on a screen that are operated by a controller similar to a radio control transmitter which is plugged into a computer.

While generous donations have launched the program, Gardner would like to expand it to include helicopter model kits. "The soldiers are getting a bit restless and are anxious to begin building," he said.

"Two of the soldiers in this project are missing their right arms and have learned to fly on the simulator with just one hand," Gardner said. "It's very inspirational to see how these guys progress." Hahn says that Gardner provides that inspiration. "Henry puts everything he has into helping these guys and runs the program on his own. He is truly an inspiration to the soldiers."