Segs4Vets Program Honors Wounded Warriors


Local soldier receives Segway at Veterans Day event



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From left, Lt. Col. Timothy Karcher, Alesia Karcher, Mizzou broadcaster Mike Kelly, and DRAFT co-founder Jerry Kerr. Kerr is on a Segs4Vets Segway, and Kelly is holding a Mizzou jersey which he presented to Karcher at the Wednesday, Nov. 11 Segs4Vets event held at the Alamo. photo by Kemp Davis for Segs4Vets (click for larger version)
November 13, 2009
Two St. Louis natives met for the first time this Veterans Day at an uplifting event held at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. The Nov. 11 ceremony honored the sacrifices of the nation's military, specifically those wounded in combat, through a unique program called Segs4Vets.

Lt. Col. Timothy Karcher, a 1985 Lindbergh High School graduate, was one of dozens of injured soldiers to be presented with a Segway personal mobility device that day.

With him was Jerry Kerr of Frontenac, one of the people who made it all possible. Kerr is the co-founder and president of the non-profit Disability Rights Advocates for Technology (DRAFT), which he started in 2005 in partnership with Leonard Timm and Gen. Ralph "Ed" Eberhart, USAF (Ret).

"Our recipients are the most extraordinary, great Americans," said Kerr. "We celebrate their patriotism, their sacrifice, their wives, husbands, children and families."

Segs4Vets

Over the past four years, DRAFT's Segs4Vets program has given away more than 400 Segways to members of the military who have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the ceremony at the Alamo, Segways were presented to 38 military personnel who had lost legs or sustained other debilitating combat-related injuries.

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Lt. Col. Timothy Karcher shakes hands with Gen. Hal Hornburg, U.S. Air Force (Ret). Hornburg is on the Segs4Vets advisory board. Behind them (with blue cap) is Jerry Kerr, DRAFT co-founder. photo by Kemp Davis for Segs4Vets. (click for larger version)
Kerr, who was disabled 11 years ago after suffering a broken neck, knows the challenges these men and women face.

Of all the organizations that helped Kerr adjust to his own disability, he said he received the most assistance from the Disabled American Veterans - even though he himself was not a vet.

"I wanted to do something to honor them," said Kerr.

"Serving in the military is one hell of a commitment," he said. "We say we're appreciative of it, but sometimes you have to do more than pay lip service."

Mobility Boost

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Kerr said it requires at least 35 percent more energy to walk around on prosthetic legs than if a person had his own limbs. He points to a Segs4Vets recipient who recently returned to college as a prime example of the benefits of the Segway.

In his first week of classes at Penn State, the veteran described how, though it was 10 degrees outside, he had worked up a sweat getting to class. By the time he had cooled off and regained his energy, class was over.

"Then he got his Segway, and he had the same amount of energy for class as the others," Kerr said.

Segways alleviate some of the frustration of moving about, and also put those with disabilities eye-to-eye with the rest of society, said Kerr.

"Being able to get around is an extraordinary gift, and the more difficulty you have, the harder it is to interact with society," said Kerr.

It costs on average $6,300 to award a Segway to a veteran. That cost includes a lift for the back of a vehicle, called a SegVator, developed by Wisconsin residents Jere Fabick and Dave Strassman. All SegVator, LLC proceeds go to DRAFT and the Segs4Vets program.

DRAFT doesn't have any big corporate donors. What they do have is many dedicated volunteers and a host of benefactors - like the Delta Tau Delta fraternity at Mizzou - who fundraise for the cause. Visit www.draft.org to learn more.

To view a video clip of Kerr talking about the Segs4Vets program, click the following link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=idCeTzJOhEo.

Lindbergh's Wounded Warrior

Lt. Col. Timothy Karcher was injured June 28 just outside of Baghdad when an EFP - a bomb containing explosively-formed projectiles - hit the vehicle in which he was riding. Both of Karcher's legs had to be amputated above the knee.

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Lt. Col. Tim Karcher (click for larger version)
Karcher had climbed the ranks in the U.S. Army to become commander of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. His injuries came just days after his direct involvement in the transfer of power from the U.S. to the Iraqis in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad.

After stints at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Karcher is currently working on his rehabilitation at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio (BAMC).

Although he now calls Texas home, Karcher grew up in South County and still has family in the area, including his parents, Raymond and Julia Karcher.

Through sheer strength of will and with the help and encouragement of his supportive family, Karcher has made remarkable progress over the past four months. On Nov. 3, he took his first steps using prosthetics.

"In life, you can choose the way you're going to react to something," said Karcher. "You can consider it the worst thing that ever happened to you and crawl into a hole, or you can think of it as another challenge in life and go on from there."

It will be awhile before Karcher will be able to maneuver his Segway, but he is looking forward to the freedom it will provide.

"It's a great program," he said. "It will increase my mobility and ability to get around without getting tired out on a long, hard day."

Karcher has recently learned to drive a vehicle using hand controls instead of pedals, and is in the initial stages of adjusting to prosthetic limbs.

"Since both of my legs were taken off at the knees, I'm on 'stubbies' now," said Karcher. "Basically, my feet are where my knees used to be."

Family Helping Family

Throughout his ordeal, Karcher had the constant presence of his wife Alesia, who advocated for him at the hospital in the early stages of his recovery. The Karchers have three daughters, Abbey, Audrey and Anna, who are their dad's best cheerleaders.

It was the opinion of his girls that weighed heaviest on him at one point during his rehab, said Karcher.

"Two of the girls are teenagers, and by their nature, teenage girls are somewhat vain," he said. "I thought they might be troubled to have a dad who was a bit of a freak show. Honestly, they have not had that attitude at all. My middle daughter was really annoyed my first week out of the hospital when I couldn't come to lunch at her school."

Karcher is based out of Fort Hood, Texas, and his family still lives in nearby Killeen. He heard about the recent shootings at the Fort Hood military base while he was in the middle of a rehab session at BAMC.

"I saw it on TV in a waiting room and I called my wife, and called my rear detachment," he said. "There are always people in a state of flux, getting back early or coming late, and I had some soldiers there.

"My heart and prayers go out to those who lost a family member and those who are wounded," he said. "I know what it is to struggle back from wounds. The military community and the community there around Fort Hood have really banded together. We'll get through this together."

Karcher is a career Army man, and he plans to keep it that way.

"I would say a year from now I'll just be getting done with rehabilitation," he said. "By that time I'll be able to walk, run, do everything I'm going to be able to do on my prosthetics. I'll be heading back out to see what the Army has in store for me."

NOTE: Karcher, a Mizzou alum, will join Mizzou broadcaster Mike Kelly in introducing the Mizzou starting line up for the Saturday, Nov. 14 football game against Kansas State, which begins at 11:30 a.m. Central Time.

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