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Daniel Barnes, an avid outdoorsman and disabled veteran who lost his legs in 2006 in Iraq, sits in an all-terrain wheelchair that lets him get back into the woods hunting and fishing in Springfield, Mo.

Missouri veteran gets back his life outdoors

September 20, 2013 at 08:26 PM

The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Staff Sgt. Daniel Barnes lost his legs in an ambush on the outskirts of Baghdad one night in 2006. It was the job of his unit to determine if a box conspicuously in the road was an improvised explosive device.

Barnes was commanding the RG31 mine-resistant lead vehicle. He stopped. As he and others waited for a vehicle with a claw used to inspect potential IEDs to move into position, the rocket-propelled grenade hit, the Springfield News-Leader ( ) reports.

"I just remember seeing a big fireball and everything went black and I could not move," he said.

He was whisked to Germany for treatment and then to the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.

"I was injured on a Monday. I woke up on Sunday. I was playing wheelchair basketball on Friday," he said.

Soon after that, he said, while in rehabilitation he learned how to fish from a kayak.

Barnes is thankful that what he was told early in rehabilitation has proven to be true. He has maintained many of the great joys of his life: hunting, fishing, hiking and, in general, being outdoors.

Barnes, 35, who lives outside Waynesville, also is an active Scoutmaster for the 42 Boy Scouts, including his 13-year-old son, Tobias, who make up Troop 202.

Although he could hunt, fish and hike in his Veterans Affairs-approved power chair, his reach into the outdoors expanded across creek beds and rutted trails and up steep hills when in early August he received the gift of a Trackchair valued at about $13,000.

The chair, 42 inches wide, has a band of tread reminiscent of a tank. It is powered by two durable marine batteries that can go full-bore for eight hours on one charge. It is made by Action Manufacturing in Marshall, Minn.

Tim Swenson owns Action Manufacturing. His son was paralyzed in a car accident at age 16 in 1998. Swenson eventually sold his motor sports business in order to create a rugged, dependable wheelchair for lovers of the outdoors.

In 2009 he made four such chairs. Last year he made more than 500. About half of his customers are veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. The other half includes those disabled in auto accidents as well as people with degenerative muscular diseases.

"A lot of veterans, especially the ones injured in the last 10 to 15 years, were pretty active people before they went into the military," Swenson said.

That certainly applies to Barnes, who grew up in a small town in upstate New York with a trout spring 100 yards from his front door. He started hunting at 13 and killed his first deer at 16; it is mounted in his home, as is the hide of a black bear he shot in Alaska in 2007.

"With this chair, I'm able to get out there in the woods by myself if I wanted to," he said. "I can get into some hunting areas that I wasn't able to get into before because of my mobility issues. ... I can go out and go fishing more with my younger son, Jacob, because he likes to fish."

It enables him to more fully participate as a Scoutmaster.

"I'm able to go where they have to go or where they want to go on on a camp-out," he said.

The cost of the Trackchair will be covered by students at the School of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, near Hollister.

Administrators and students at the School of the Ozarks, a laboratory school for grades 9-12, hope to encourage student groups across the nation to help veterans, said Susan Head, dean of character education at College of the Ozarks.

Barnes received his Trackchair through the generosity of the Independence Fund, a national organization that raises money for severely injured veterans. Bill O'Reilly, who will speak at College of the Ozarks on Oct. 11, has championed the cause of various wounded warrior groups and has helped them raise millions of dollars.

With O'Reilly scheduled to speak, Head said, the College of the Ozarks wanted to help an injured Missouri veteran obtain a Trackchair. The college contacted the Independence Fund the day after Barnes had called.

Barnes was unable to pay for the one that had been built for him by Action Manufacturing. The Department of Veterans Affairs, at the last minute, told the manufacturer it would not pay for it because the company had to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be an acceptable vendor.

"I was pretty upset about it," Barnes said.

In summary: Barnes called the Independence Fund one day after it had been contacted by the College of the Ozarks, which was looking to buy a Trackchair for a wounded Missouri veteran. The students at the School of the Ozarks are working to reimburse the Independence Fund for the cost of the chair.

"I just happened to call at the right time," Barnes said.

Gretchen Barnes recalled the day her husband was injured: Labor Day 2006.

Two soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood came to her door in St. Robert. They were with her best friend from down the street. Since the soldiers were not wearing dress uniforms, she knew Daniel had not been killed. They told her he had lost his legs.

She was thankful. Her friend from down the street had lost her husband in Iraq just four months prior.

Daniel has always had a positive outlook and is strong-willed, Gretchen said.

"He has always been stubborn. The best way to get him to do something is to tell him he can't do it," she said.

In fact, she joked, she can trick him into doing housework by suggesting, for example, that he's unable to vacuum the floor.

The couple has four boys: Tobias, 13; Jacob, 8; and twins Henry and Gavin, 3½.

"Crappy stuff happens to people every day," she said. "I did not want to be a widow. So I thank God for that."

The Trackchair has given her husband much of his life back.

"He can give up walking," she said. "He can give up the standing. But don't take away a man's car. And don't take away his ability to kill deer."


Information from: Springfield News-Leader,

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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