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FORT RILEY, Kan. – More than 30 people from Fort Riley, Kansas State University and the area community have teamed to build a greenhouse that will serve as important therapy for soldiers hurt in the line of duty.
Officials from the post and university cut the ribbon July 2 to officially open the post’s indoor garden, which one army officer says will be an ally for soldiers who have suffered concussions or other traumatic brain injury in battle.
Col. Craig Webb, the deputy commander for clinical services at Fort Riley, said that since 2000, 125,000 U.S. soldiers have suffered a traumatic brain injury, which essentially damages the frontal lobe of the brain and affects their memory and ability to sequence events.
“For the soldiers, it’s an excellent opportunity to train and learn new skills while they’re recovering from their traumatic brain injury,” Webb said. “They can learn to take care of plants, they can learn sequential events, [and] they can learn to hone their memory.”
The project is the result of a grant from the Parsons, Kan.-based Assistive Technology for Kansans, and K-State Research and Extension’s Kansas AgrAbility project, which focuses on helping people with disabilities working in agriculture-related occupations.
Kerri Ebert, who coordinates the state’s AgrAbility program, said her group was able to buy the greenhouse (called a high tunnel) as well as tools, benches and equipment that soldiers will need to grow fruits, vegetables and more.
“In the therapy world, we would call this a media,” said Elain Donnoe, a Fort Riley occupational therapist working with the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at the post. “This is a different media we can use.”
Donnoe noted that many soldiers receive multiple concussions while on active duty. “So their ability to stabilize emotions is really an issue; working on stress relief is really important.”
Ebert calls the high tunnel “a giant erector set,” standing eight feet tall on the sides with an approximately 16-foot-tall ceiling. The floor space is 42 feet by 30 feet. “They could grow a tree in there, if they wanted to,” she said.
It took numerous volunteers several weeks to build the high tunnel, including faculty in K-State’s department of biological and agricultural engineering; citizens from the Manhattan area; and Fort Riley soldiers. Some of those people worked during the recent Memorial Day weekend to keep the project moving.
In addition to aiding in physical therapy, officials said that the high tunnel may also provide soldiers with a job option after their military career.
“For young men and women [this high tunnel will provide] exposure to vocational options that will be available to them when they’re discharged,” Ebert said. “It’s a natural part of what AgrAbility does; we work with farmers…and people who want to be farmers.”
Soldiers will begin working in the high tunnel soon, officials said. Ebert noted that additional equipment will be provided to accommodate soldier’s specific needs.