Article published May 23, 2010
Wounded veterans take SWAT challengeBy Craig Peters
DUNCAN - Bryan Wagner, Zach Hudson and Carlos De Leon rip jokes on each other like brothers.
Wagner, 24, is from California. Hudson, 25, is from Gulf Shores, Ala. De Leon, 29, is from Puerto Rico.
Conflict connected these men. They are classmates of Cohort 4, a group of wounded veterans studying college courses and participating in special events as part of the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that helps wounded veterans transition into civilian life after their service. The bond isn't a bloodline, but it is special.
"I know that these men have undergone a certain amount of (stuff)," Hudson said.
The men met each other in January when they convened in Jacksonville, Fla., for this year's grouping. They will study courses for a year and participate in an externship program.
Wagner, Hudson and De Leon came to the Upstate this past week to team up with regional SWAT teams from law enforcement agencies at the South Eastern SWAT Association's 17th annual competition. On Saturday, they joined the teams on an agility course and shooting skills competition at the Spartanburg County Emergency Services Academy in Duncan.
Spartanburg County Detention Facility Capt. Allen Freeman said this was the first year for Wounded Warriors to participate.
"They've done real well," said Freeman, adding that the SWAT teams enjoyed partnering with the veterans because many SWAT members are veterans.
De Leon relished joining the Spartanburg County team.
"We hope we have more events like this in the future," he said.
Wagner lost his right leg from the knee down when an improvised explosive device hit the truck transporting him and other soldiers on Dec. 17, 2007. Four days later, Wagner was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He has a prosthetic and is studying physical therapy.
The program prepares participants to complete college degrees and offers them unique opportunities. This year's group has sky dived, visited TPC Sawgrass and car shows. They went to a Greenville Drive game Friday night and will leave the Upstate today.
Joe Merritt, 39, an alumnus of the Wounded Warrior Program, is a firefighter with the Croft Fire Department. Merritt and Dan Ramsey, 30, who is with another military nonprofit based in Columbia called Hidden Wounds, also participated in the SWAT competition.
Merritt said Hidden Wounds helped him with post-traumatic stress disorder after his service.