Fort Riley opens therapeutic greenhouse for soldiers with mild brain trauma

When people hear terms such as “post-traumatic stress disorder” or “war injuries,” they often assume that these afflictions need intensive physical or psychological treatment.
Last Monday, however, a team of more than 30 people from the K-State, Manhattan and Fort Riley areas came together to commemorate the opening of a greenhouse in Fort Riley that will serve as a site for mental and psychological therapy for soldiers who have suffered war trauma.
Katherine Rosario, media contact for Irwin Army Community Hospital, said the K-State Research and Extension program thought a greenhouse environment would help to treat affected soldiers.
“It benefits soldiers with mild traumatic brain injuries by engaging them in horticultural activities,” Rosario said. “And then it helps the transition back into Army or civilian life.”
Rosario said the project starts with participants maintaining household plants and then moves up to growing vegetables.
Elaine Donnoe, occupational therapist with the Warrior Transition Unit on post, said it took K-State three years to set up the project and start to help those who have traumatic brain injuries.
Those who have traumatic brain injuries experience problems with organizing their thoughts, she said.
“You are not able to sequence [your thoughts],” Donnoe said. “Working in a greenhouse helps those sort of things like problem-solving.”
According to Donnoe, tasks at the greenhouse help soldiers who have been affected with mild brain trauma to recover what is called “executive functioning,” which is the process of identifying problems, looking for a solution and determining if it is the correct solution.
Rosario also said the greenhouse helps the soldiers learn sequential thoughts by providing hands-on experiences with the plants, and also assists them in maintaining good social skills by having them work in groups.
This project is for those who have suffered traumatic brain injury either in the field or in training, Rosario said.
Matt Wolfe, former Infantry Marine and Rockets and Explosives Specialist, who served two tours in Iraq, said trauma can come from both the training a soldier receives and the duty that he performs for his country.
Wolfe said the loud noises such as the explosions and gun fire at the shooting ranges can be quite loud and cause a loss of hearing, which could lead to trauma.
He also said training can be quite excruciating because it is for combat, but that it really prepares one for action in the field.
Although training prepares one for battle, the feeling of being in a third-world country and straying far from home, could be a cause of trauma, Wolfe said.
“Blood and gore in battle and serious contact,” Wolfe said. “[It] is a real gut check.”