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Wounded warriors compete for bragging rights


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POSTED: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Army Sgt. Kailani Patacsil's knee was injured when a roadside bomb in Iraq exploded a few month ago, but it won't stop him from paddling in the 2009 Wounded Warrior Canoe Regatta May 30.

Patacsil, a Big Islander who has paddled for 10 years, said events like the regatta have boosted the morale of recovering soldiers on Oahu.

The inaugural event at the Pearl Harbor Marina is sponsored by the volunteer Hawaii Wounded Warrior Support Program, also known as Malama na Koa—Caring for Our Warriors. The regatta is just one of dozens of events and services designed to show appreciation to wounded troops and to help their families, said U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo, the program's founder.

Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard paddling teams, including some recovering service members, will be joined by the Honolulu Police Department's SWAT Unit and Honolulu Fire Department's rescue team in the contest. More than 50 teams will compete for bragging rights and awards from 9 a.m. to noon near the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center. The public is welcome.

Kubo's program also provides free entertainment and sports tickets to 300 wounded personnel from all military branches, 250 of them under the daily care of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Tripler Army Medical Center, he said.

Patacsil, one of 15 in the WTB to paddle in the regatta, said, "My recovery has been great. It's more like a family, the way they nurture wounded soldiers. It brings up your morale. It makes you not feel you're wounded."

Also paddling will be Army Spc. Thomas Montgomery of Boise, Idaho, who was critically injured in South Korea in March 2008.

"I never paddled before," Montgomery said. "It was my first time (yesterday). But I've done some white-water rafting."

Montgomery was transferred to Hawaii in October. Community events for troops, he said, "really raise morale. A lot of times most soldiers are not (feeling) too wonderful. It's a great opportunity to get out and meet other people."

Kubo said he formed the program because his job as a public servant "doesn't stop at the courtroom doors."

Kubo said he was motivated partially by his stepson, who was deployed to Kuwait, but mostly because he knew how it felt to grow up with a parent deployed to an overseas war. His father fought in Vietnam.

"We were all by ourselves. If we needed help, my mother somehow found a way. There were no support groups, nobody reaching out from the community. It sure would've been nice to have a support group," he added.