SMITHWICK — As Army Staff Sgt. Conrad Calderon wheeled around the Hidden Falls Adventure Park pavilion on a track-based wheelchair, his daughter giggled. When he stopped, she pushed on the controls, making the chair back up and jolt to their left.“She loves this,” Calderon said. He’s missing his right leg below the knee from an injury he suffered while serving in Iraq. The staff sergeant and his family were among the many attending the fifth annual Wheelers for the Wounded event at the off-road facility May 4.
Officials expected 400 wounded service members and their families for a day of off-roading and rock crawling on the 3,000-plus acre park. Richard Cruz, the president of the Wheelers for the Wounded-San Antonio chapter, said about 150 off-road enthusiasts donated their time and rigs to give the military members and families a chance to get outside.
“We try to do something of a mini-vacation for them,” he said. “Just a day to get away from their day-to-day issues.”
The vehicles and buses transporting the service members and their families began rolling in about 11 a.m. from Fort Hood in Killeen, the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and the Fischer House in Houston.
The owners of the four-wheeled-drive vehicles began lining up in anticipation of picking up the Purple Heart recipients and their families for a day on the trails.
“Look at them all,” local organizer Jean Eades said. “The off-road community has been incredible about this. They look forward to this every year.”
After lunch and an opening ceremony, the Jeeps and other off-road rigs rolled up to the pick-up point where service members and their families climbed aboard and headed for the trails.
“It’s just great that we can give something back to them for all they’ve given for us and the country,” Eades said.
For people who didn’t want to go out on the trails or were waiting for some vehicles to come back in for more passengers, organizers had games, face painting and other activities.
Along the north side of the pavilion, organizers set up a wall of honor with the photo and name of every Texas service member who has died during the recent Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts.
On the wall, Calderon, who initially hailed from California but has since decided to call Texas home, found one of his soldiers who died in Iraq.
“He was 22,” the staff sergeant said. “A good soldier.”
While the event was designed to give service members such as himself and his family a “break” and express the public’s gratitude for the military men’s and women’s service, Calderon expressed his appreciation to those who made it possible.
“It’s uplifting to get out and get the family out,” he said. “We’re here enjoying ourselves. We say, ‘thank you,’ to all the people who donate their time to come out here and spend time with us.”
For more information on Wheelers for the Wounded, go to www.wftw-sa.org.