Iraq on the minds of disabled vets in Aspen for sports clinic |

Iraq on the minds of disabled vets in Aspen for sports clinic

Naomi Havlen

If he wasn’t in a wheelchair, Dwayne McLetchie said he’d be in Iraq, fighting with our troops.

A veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, McLetchie is in Aspen as part of the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. This past week, he’s skied, played some sled hockey, gone horseback riding and taken a backcountry ride on a snowcat, but he said his thoughts are with the American soldiers in Iraq.

“These younger soldiers, many of them are in the military to get a college education,” he said. “They’re not prepared for this. I always wanted to be a soldier. But over there it was just a job, and my main objective was to come back home.”

More than 350 disabled veterans are visiting the Roaring Fork Valley this week for the 17th annual event. Many of the veterans were in the Middle East when they served, and reflected on their time in the Gulf War.

“I spent most of my time in Iraq just getting from point A to point B,” said Richard Dube, who was in the Army between 1990 and 1995, and spent five-and-a-half months in the Middle East. For part of the time, he said his unit was 200 kilometers from Baghdad.

Dube was paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident after he served with the Army. During the past week in Aspen, he has learned how to ski in a sit-down bi-ski, and enjoyed the time away from his hometown of Puyallup, Wash.

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He said he doesn’t like to think much about his time in the Gulf, but feels for the American troops who are there now.

“I support my fellow guys, but I don’t know if I support everything else,” he said of the war. “I understand that we’re helping [the people of Iraq] out, but sometimes when we help too many people out, it ends up hurting us.”

Chatriex Goodson was in the Air Force from 1990 to 1994 and spent the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. She and Dwayne McLetchie are both from Miami and have loved learning how to ski during their first trip to Aspen.

On Thursday evening, Goodson and McLetchie arrived at the Elks Club where volunteers served dinner and socialized. Bob Vale from the Elks said the event is their biggest event of the year with 900 people as volunteers and support staff for the 350 disabled vets.

Volunteers include community members like the women from Heritage Aspen, who have given the vets historical tours of the town. Other events during the week include rock climbing, scuba diving and snowmobiling.

“It feels a little strange having fun here while people are over there fighting, but life goes on,” Goodson said. “This is such an enriching experience for us, and we’re just loving it.”

Bennie , who served in the Army from 1973 to 1975, said he felt lucky he was never sent to Vietnam during his time in the military.

“I’m glad I already did my time,” he said. Wansley was doing some window-shopping in downtown Aspen on Thursday afternoon, rolling his wheelchair down the sidewalk as the snow flew. Wansley attended the sports clinic twice when it was held in Crested Butte, but was enjoying his first time in Aspen from his hometown of Jackson, Miss.

“The Iraqis believe they are fighting for God, but God ain’t nothing but love, so why are they fighting?” he said.