Combat veteran and medically retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Dameon Berry was formally presented with an all-terrain wheelchair at Halls Service Center on Feb. 16.
The Independence Fund, a national nonprofit assisting catastrophically wounded veterans, and Halls Service Center Tire Pros banded together to give the gift of increased mobility to Berry.
Born and raised in East Tennessee, Berry joined the Army at 18 and served in the Military Police Corps 1997-2003. After deployments to Kosovo and Afghanistan, he had been home for just six months when a van hit him while he was riding his motorcycle.
Initially, he was paralyzed from the neck down, but later regained movement in his arms. Didn’t let paralysis slow him down
“I broke my neck and back in two places,” he said. “I don’t think of doing anything special; I was 23 when I was injured and too young to give up. I always push myself. Now I’m able to do a lot of stuff myself; I used to have to rely on friends. I don’t quit. Hope is a great thing; don’t let things slow you down.”
Berry, now 39, runs his 25-acre farm and East Tennessee K-9 dog training business with his wife, Jamie.
Dameon Berry puts his new all-terrain wheelchair through its paces on his 25-acre farm in Maynardville. (Photo11: Submitted)
He trains dogs in obedience, search and rescue, and tracking.
“He spends all his time with dogs, he loves dogs, he works with lots of veterans and the business really started by word of mouth,” said Jamie Berry. “People don’t realize he is a quadriplegic. He is very exceptional.”
“This is not something I’ll just play with, this is something I’ll work with in my business,” said Berry of the new wheelchair. “There are some things that we have had to hold back on with our business. Now we can go after them.
“It is designed to move through difficult terrain like tall grass and deal with the rain we’ve had lately,” said Berry. “I can take on more police dog training now and it will allow me to participate in more competitions.”
At first, Berry just helped his friends with dog training. “When I started K-9 16 years ago, I would only charge enough to pay for dog food,” said Berry of the business that has grown significantly since then. “With the new chair, I can do it more often.”
The chair can be adjusted to tilt backward for travel up and down steep terrain and features anti-tip bars on the front and back. “It’s very comfortable,” said Berry. “Even though it’s wider and can be a little more cumbersome, it can still make sharp turns. The tracks are wider than normal and unlike narrower tires, which are more likely to get stuck and sink in the mud.”
The Berry family has been surprised to discover the number of organizations who are ready and willing to offer support to veterans and their caregivers.
358 heelchairs empowering veterans
Sam Johnson of the Independence Fund said at the presentation that they have given away 358 all-terrain wheelchairs throughout the year. “We want to empower our severely wounded veterans and their caregivers,” said Johnson. “We are dedicated to improving the lives of both our veterans and their families through our Mobility, Adaptive Sports, Caregiver, Family and Advocacy Programs. It also assists in combating veteran suicide.”