‘Military spirit’ helps veterans recover

Air Force Tech Sgt. Leonard Anderson played for the Wounded Warriors Amputee Softball Team in Charleston last year. (Photo provided)

When Josh Wege was lying in his hospital bed in 2009 recovering from the amputation of both of his legs below the knee, one thought seemed to occupy his mind constantly.

“I was 19 at the time and I was just thinking, ‘This is going to be a little far-fetched,’ but I was thinking about playing ball again,” he said. “My family was there and they were like, ‘Hey, you’re going to be able to play ball again.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’d be cool. I still want to play outfield. I still want to play infield.’ ”

Now he does.

Wege is one of 29 members on the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team, a group that was formed in 2011 for amputee veterans and active soldiers.

On Saturday, the team, which only plays against able-bodied teams, will compete in the second annual ‘Battle of Charleston Harbor’ at the College of Charleston’s baseball field on Patriots Point. Beginning at 9 a.m., the Wounded Warrior team will play a doubleheader against a team from Joint Base Charleston and a team of first responders from Mount Pleasant and Charleston. Parking and admission are free.

“It’s a huge opportunity for guys to get out. We’ve gotten some guys that are fresh amputees, they came out and it’s really helped them,” said Wege, who was running a routine patrol in Southern Afghanistan when his vehicle hit a 200-pound IED. “Just to be around other amputees themselves, just kind of having that military spirit to help each other out.”

The organization, a nonprofit, is funded by donations directly to the team, as well as donations the team receives as a result of its kids camp it puts on every year.

With the donations, the group is able to travel about twice a month around the country for games. They’ve been to about half of the 50 states, including Florida, Hawaii and California.

“Everyone sees the physical therapy that we do and all of us out there running and hitting and catching the ball. They see that,” said 31-year-old shortstop Saul Bosquez. “But unless they’re vets or maybe family of vets, they don’t know the mental aspect that we go through.”

Bosquez is a below-the-knee amputee on the left side, who broke his leg in 13 different places in Baghdad. When he woke up from surgery, he learned that doctors had to amputate half of his left foot. Doctors told him later they would try to salvage the rest of his leg, but that there wasn’t any guarantee it’d be successful. He elected to have it amputated.

“Not a decision I thought I’d ever have to make,” he said. “But I made the right decision.”

Saturday in Charleston will be just another reinforcement of that, as Bosquez takes the weekend off from his MBA program and Wege celebrates not having to study for finals. Wege is currently an undergrad at Florida Gulf Coast, but soon he’ll go to grad school, where he’ll study to be a prosthetist.

“Honestly the biggest thing for me was just getting out and doing it once because I had this fear of failure,” Wege said.

“It sounds stupid, but I did. I didn’t want to go out and find out I couldn’t do something I used to. But every single thing that I did I remember either saying to myself or saying it out loud, ‘Wow that was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.’’’