When Staff Sgt. Cristian Trujillo woke from his three-month coma he “wasn’t expecting to be here.”
Trujillo broke his back and pelvis, and suffered injuries to his chest and ribs, after getting hit with an IED in Afghanistan. “It’s kind of surreal because I was in the hospital for so long that I never thought I was going to get out,” he said. “About this time last year I was in the hospital; I was in there for six months. It was a long time before I saw the sunlight.”
On Sept. 30, the American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) program brought hundreds of wounded vets and their families, including the Trujillos, to Six Flags San Antonio for a day of relaxation, camaraderie, food, rides and sunshine.
“It’s really good that there is an organization like (The American Legion) that does this without asking for anything in exchange,” he said. “Sometimes we feel left out. We back ourselves into a dark corner with PTSD and other stuff going on.”
The 20th District of the Department of Texas has been coordinating this event for Brooke Army Medical Center patients for at least a half-dozen years. American Legion Family members chatted with and passed out OCW T-shirts to the veterans and their family members. After they had lunch in a picnic area, the families headed out to enjoy a day of rides and games in the park.
For Peter Dubey, it was his first time visiting Six Flags, along with his wife and daughters.
“It’s really awesome because this is the first event like this that I have been able to do because I have a prosthetic femur,” Dubey said. “It’s really nice that The American Legion and Operation Comfort Warriors provide this for us. It’s really awesome. We’re having a great time.”
Dubey understands the Legion’s commitment to veterans serving veterans.
“It’s really amazing because you already gave to your country as a veteran and now you are giving back to your country by helping veterans and active-duty servicemembers who need assistance,” he said. “I think the world could learn a lot from the military. You have all kinds of backgrounds, races, religions working together as one toward the common goal. I would say it is impressive and patriotic.”
Pvt. Dajuan Tankard has only been at the warrior transition battalion (WTB) for about six weeks.
“It’s kind of a way to relax, it takes your mind off recovery so you can enjoy the day with family members and friends at the WTB,” he said. “Just knowing that people care — not just about your recovery but being able to have fun — it speaks a lot about those people.”
Jennifer Nelson, who works with the wounded warriors and their families in the WTB at Brooke, estimates that several thousands have been treated to the Six Flags experience from OCW. “For The American Legion to pay for this and put this on, it’s a really big deal for the servicemembers and their families.”
Al Alford, 20th district commander of the department of Texas, said this is a primary way the department works to support those who are staying at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
“We do this event every year to show our support for the troops and the veterans of the United States armed forces,” said the 30-year Air Force veteran, noting his father and brothers also served. “It’s very important to me because I have a strong family history of military involvement. It’s very important for me to give back.”
The Six Flags trip is one example of how OCW provides recreational activities, rehabilitation gear and other support to wounded warriors. Donations to OCW cover such gifts.
“What I have to say to the donors and all the American people is that there are veterans out there who need the support, they need to get out of their house and not sink into a black hole that they will never come out of,” Trujillo said. “By putting these events together, it will affect them.”
Trujillo was not only gracious but expressed his interest in passing it forward when he is able. “I would love to give back in my own way,” he said. “I would love to be part of this organization. I think that would help me out. And it would help me help the men and women I love, the servicemembers.”