• September 17, 2014

Chess helps wounded warriors adapt after injuries

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Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 4:30 am

Chief Warrant Officer-3 Brenda Taylor doesn’t remember if her opponent moved a piece or, if so, to where. A typical chess game for Taylor consists of asking many questions.

She’s been playing chess every week for about a month, but as far as improving her skills, the soldier in the Warrior Transition Brigade has to relearn everything.

“As soon as we’re done and I get back to my room, I forget,” Taylor said June 5 during an adaptive reconditioning program, which offers chess to wounded warriors. “It’s a slow process for me.”

Taylor, who was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, joined the Warrior Transition Brigade earlier this year after a rocket accident in Afghanistan in February.

Taylor, who has been in the Army 18 years, lives in the barracks.

“My kids are grown, so I don’t have anybody here,” she said. “But (the soldiers) are my family so we support each other. … It means a lot because they’re going through the same things I am, so they understand. It’s at different levels, but they understand. They know when we’re having bad days. They can come up to me and just touch me and not say anything and it means a lot.”

Susan Wilson, the adaptive reconditioning program site coordinator, said the group has grown from just a few participants the first day, to drawing more than 20 wounded warriors some weeks.

After the brigade switched from the adaptive sports program to the adaptive reconditioning program earlier this year, Wilson said she looked for passive activities to help the soldiers improve social skills, methods of coping and dealing with frustration and patience.

It’s also part of community reintegration because it familiarizes soldiers with what the civilian world offers.

“They start playing and meeting new people,” she said. “Sometimes readjustment into the community and going into something that’s completely new, not knowing anybody (is hard). ... It’s getting them comfortable in their new normal.”

Retired Navy Cmdr. Dan Veatch and Frank Adams, both members of the Killeen Chess Club, volunteer to teach chess to the wounded soldiers during the Wednesday meetings.

Adams said chess helps with visual and cognitive skills by making players think about the different possibilities.

“You actually think about theory and how to coordinate the pieces in your mind,” he said.

Wilson said the group allows the soldiers — some who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and brain trauma — to be active in the community and stay vibrant.

“The worst thing for me is for them to go home and isolate and play video games and not be social with people and not connect with their families,” she said.

As she learns to do everything all over again, Taylor said the group helps with her motor and cognitive skills.

“Chess helps me with memory and a lot of occupational and physical therapy,” she said. “I do a lot of cognitive and team challenge stuff. It can be frustrating, but I do it because I need to and I have to for me, to get better.”

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