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Article -A New Basic Training: Woodworking Class Provides Therapy for Military Veterans

A New Basic Training: Woodworking Class Provides Therapy for Military Veterans

Community Nov 10, 2016 by Richard Hutton Niagara This Week - Niagara Falls



 Instructor Rob Cosman helps retired U.S., Army veteran Lt.-Col. Andy Nichols  secure a dovetail joint. Nichols was one of a number of veterans from south of the border taking part in a week-long series of woodworking classes at Heartland Forest in Niagara Falls. - Richard Hutton/Metroland


NIAGARA FALLS - Life changed in an instant for Andy Nicholls on Aug. 21 2004.  Nichols, a Lt.-Col. in the U.S. Army was in Iraq when his convoy was attacked on a road between Baqubah and Baghdad.

 “I was travelling in an armored Humvee,” Nichols, 58, said. “We were an easy target to pick up.”

The convoy came under siege when what Nichols described as “multiple command detonations” began. Nichols’ Humvee was sent airborne and landed noise first before setting back on the ground.

 The incident left Nichols with multiple injuries. “Traumatic brain injury, spinal column injuries,” he said. “I dislocated both my shoulders, I dislocated both my hips, and my eyes were reshaped, leaving me legally blind. I have major problems with my balance and motion sickness.”

The resulting injuries meant the career military man — he had served in the army for 28 years — was in an out of Veteran’s Administration hospitals for the better part of three years between 2005 and 2008.

Nichols, who lives in south Texas near San Antonio, was one of a group of veterans from the U.S. who have been at Heartland Forest this week, working with woodworking instructor Rob Cosman to improve their skills.

For Nichols, woodworking has been something he has been able to grab onto and help him cope with his injuries. “Before I was injured, I had some hobbies,” he said. “I’d motocross with my kids. I rode 7,700 miles a year on my bicycle. I used to shoot competitively. I lost all of those hobbies.”

He said he searched for something new to occupy his time when he discovered woodworking.

“It’s a distraction. I call it distractive therapy,” Nichols said. “It takes my mind off the pain.” The source of that pain is nerve damage that resulted from the attack in Iraq. “My nerves are degenerating. It’s sort of like MS (multiple sclerosis) is reverse.” He said woodworking is a painful pursuit for him, but the gains are worth it. “It allows me to get exercise. It’s important to keep my hands busy. I try to use them as much as I can.”

 Cosman, meanwhile, said his program got its start through donations from a man he has never met face to face and whom he refers to simply as “Santa Claus.” He has been helping Cosman, a New Brunswick native, since 2008.  That was the result of hearing the story a young veteran named “Julian” who had written Cosman about some of his tools he sells. He had enquired about factory “seconds” in the hopes of getting tools at a reduced cost.  “Every holiday we give away $2,000 worth of tools,” Cosman said.

Special week-long classes such as the one at Heartland are completely free. All air fare and accommodation is paid for thanks to the donations from Santa and others.

 He said the work with veterans is gratifying, and it is the least he can do. “Our veterans are not being taken care of,” Cosman said. “We need to stop just saying ‘thank you’ and start doing something.”

Woodworking, since it is no longer being taught in schools, is becoming somewhat of a lost art, he said.

“The guys that served in the Second World War and Vietnam, they learned in school,” he said. “The guys in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t have that. We help them get started.”

 by Richard Hutton

Richard Hutton is a Reporter-Photographer for Niagara this Week, covering Niagara Falls, everything from politics to community stories and everything in between.

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