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Kris Kringle and helper elf test Hawker jet
Campaign visiting wounded soldiers
army santa Kanicki 1
Fort Stewart officials welcome Santa Claus during his visit here Tuesday. - photo by Photo by Denise Etheridge
Santa Claus traded in his sleigh and reindeer this week to test-fly a Hawker jet while he and “Elf D” visited wounded warriors from the East Coast to the West.
North American Aerospace Defense Command tracked Kris Kringle’s plane as the jolly old elf’s makeshift workshop traveled to military hospitals and installations across the country.
Santa and Elf D, Dana Bowman, greeted injured soldiers to spread hope and inspiration as well as holiday spirit.  Bowman understands the long journey wounded warriors make toward wellness. Bowman, a double amputee, was a Special Forces soldier who lost his legs in a midair collision while skydiving in 1994. He was a member of the Golden Knights parachute team. Bowman still jumps from planes and encourages anyone — disabled or not — to try skydiving.
Santa and Bowman, courtesy of Hawker Beechcraft Aviation, landed in a Hawker jet at Wright Army Airfield on Tuesday to visit injured soldiers assigned to Fort Stewart’s Warrior Transition Battalion. Bowman said he and Santa had 30 more stops to make by Friday. Santa and his elf handed out gifts to injured soldiers and passed out toys for their children.
Lt. Col. Greg Kanicki, Warrior Transition Unit commander, said the Operation Christmas Miracle tour would benefit his battalion’s 226 soldiers by raising their morale.
“We want to bring them (Santa and Elf D) back next year,” Kanicki said.
Bowman handed postcards out to Fort Stewart’s wounded warriors. The front shows Bowman doing what he loves best — skydiving. It also shares his motto: “It’s Not the Disability, It’s the Ability!”
“Does anyone want to jump?” he asked injured soldiers. “Do you like hunting? I could hook you up with that.”
“It’s about giving back,” Bowman said. “There are all kinds of disabilities. I’m here to show that anything is possible. We (motioning to the roomful of wounded warriors) are the lucky ones. We’re still here.”
He tells disabled soldiers their injuries don’t have to hold them back.
“Five months after my accident, I snuck out to do my first jump,” Bowman said.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Lumpiesz with the Warrior Transition Battalion said the Santa tour was “outstanding.”
“It’s always good to see programs like this,” Lumpiesz said. The young sergeant is himself a wounded warrior. He took shrapnel in the leg from an IED in January 2007 while serving in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
“I was able to walk away from my injuries,” Lumpiesz said. He is assigned to assist severely injured soldiers in the Warrior Transition Battalion for two more years.
Sgt. 1st Class Raul Otero enjoyed Santa and Elf D’s visit. Otero also seems appreciative of the battalion’s services in helping him recuperate from his injuries and the three resulting surgeries.
“I took a gunshot wound to the tibia,” he said. “I was hit by sniper fire on May 6, 2007, in Iraq.”
Otero said the battalion’s physical therapists assist in his recuperation, pushing him to push himself physically and mentally.
“It took me some time,” he admitted. “But I got myself up and going.
“I used to run,” he continued. “I can’t run anymore so I swim. Before my injury I didn’t swim. I also jog recreationally.”
Otero swims 64 laps nearly every day.
“That’s how I lost all my weight,” he said with a grin. “My uniform is loose on me now.”
The disabled athlete intends to try out for the Army’s paralympic swim team on Aug. 30.
Otero already has one local athletic event under his belt. He completed the Enmark Savannah River Bridge Run earlier this month.
The wounded warrior also has returned to school. He is studying for a bachelor’s degree in counter terrorism.
“It (the battalion) is a good place to catch up and refocus,” Otero said.
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