January 29, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Craig LaPine, a 1996 Lake Orion graduate who currently works in the Marine Corps Headquarters at the Pentagon, said volunteering with the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Group was the first time he felt real happiness since his deployment abroad.
The USA Warriors Ice Hockey is a national non-profit organization designed to give veterans an environment to play hockey that is suitable to their needs. Rehabilitation is the focus, as injured servicemen and women are provided the tools, companionship and encouragement to overcome physical and mental injuries acquired from their services.
LaPine spent 17½ years being transferred around the world as a marine, and came back to the States for his current job at the Pentagon.
Before Christmas he flew to Detroit for four specific hockey games.
One was a home game for the Red Wings against the Tampa Bay Lightning, where LaPine sat in the Budd Lynch Veteran's Suite, and chatted with Steve Yzerman, Chris Draper, Todd Burt and other players after the game.
The other games he played defense for the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Group, side by side with combat wounded or disabled veterans who shared similar mental and physical strains LaPine did across seas, working now as teammates. The first game was at the Onyx Ice Arena in Rochester against a local men's league team. The second game was against the Ford Motor Company Team at the U-of- M Dearborn Ice Arena.
The big game -- the one he flew home for -- was the Hockeytown Wounded Veterans Winter Classic where the US Warriors faced the Canadian Armed Forces Soldier On Hockey Team, the Canadian team dedicated to supporting wounded soldiers.
"We were standing outside the hotel and one of the Soldier On guys started talking about how he was nervous coming to this event because he didn't know what we would be like," LaPine said. "But he said since we got here and met you guys, I haven't had to take my medication. I'm assuming it was a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) thing," he said.
"To hear somebody say that, it really drives at the heart of why we do this for the guys," LaPine continued.
He came to know the organization while working in the Pentagon, and quickly devoted his spare time and energy volunteering as a mentor and defensive lineman when he got the chance to play.
First, there is the physical benefit of the sport, and getting back into the athleticism veterans came from in the military.
"Despite their injuries, they're not disabled, they don't look at themselves as disabled, and they're just as capable on the ice," LaPine said.
And, there's the mental benefit too.
"PTSD, it's a very, very weird thing, it's something that I deal with and have been for a number of years. I really can't explain to you how this program helps with that, and how this has helped me and my journey and trying to figure out how to get right," LaPine said. "One of the things that's really common with people with PTSD is happiness is very, very hard to come by for this really weird, screwy reason."
LaPine enlisted and went to boot camp after graduating from Lake Orion High in 1996, and has been deployed all over the world, including stations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Japan. He was a member of the 26th marine expeditionary unit which participated in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, participated in the Joint Task Force Liberia, and was deployed to Iraq again for the battle for Fallujah in 2004.
"You get this sense of camaraderie that is really hard to replicate outside the military," LaPine said.
Playing with them for the first couple times "started my first moments of real happiness and smiling because I was actually happy, not because it was socially appropriate at the time. I don't want to speak for anyone else, but you kind of get the sense this is the way everyone else feels too," he said.
For more information on the US Warriors, visit their website at http://usawarriorshockey.org/.