Paddle board gets injured veteran active in the ocean

James Gafney deployed to Afghanistan twice – once in 2003 as U.S. Army Chinook helicopter pilot and in 2008-09 when he was embedded with the Iraqi army as part of the Military Transition Team. During a deployment he broke his back from falling into a hole while running “as fast as I could” across a landing zone with all his gear on. He then broke his back again after retirement from 23 years in the military.

Gafney can’t run or bike long distances without his back hurting, but he wanted something active to do in his beachside hometown of Hallandale, Fla., to stay healthy. Thanks to a friend, he found it in paddle boarding.

“I was like oh man, this is awesome,” said Gafney, a first officer pilot with Northern Air Cargo. “If you have PTSD, the ocean is a great place to relax and think about life, clear your head and your heart.”

To help Gafney be active in the peaceful ocean, the American Legion Department of Florida presented him with a paddle board and paddle as part of an American Legion Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) grant. The presentation was held at Post 92 in Hollywood Fla., on Feb. 18.

“This paddle board is to help him get out and do some exercise to strengthen his core and his back and try to stay on his feet as long as he can and be as healthy as he can,” said Department of Florida Adjutant Bruce Comer.

OCW was established in 2007 to provide relief items for active-duty military personnel recovering from wounds and illnesses at VA health-care facilities and transition units, and to purchase and deliver items not normally provided by the federal government. OCW has provided a variety of items to help wounded warriors and veterans in their recovery, including electronic devices, clothing, games, art supplies, fitness and sports therapy equipment, and more.

Gafney is looking forward to being out in the ocean when the sun is coming up and “the water is nice and calm,” he said. “I can’t thank this (American Legion OCW) program enough. I think it’s a great program to help a lot of veterans. (The paddle board) will always make me think of my brothers and sisters.”

One hundred percent of donations to OCW go toward rehabilitation, comfort, and other such items for veterans and servicemembers. Learn more at

“It is indeed an honor for us to present to Jim this paddle board because it makes us feel good knowing we do what we always do – help our veterans, help our community, help our children and youth,” said Eunice Butts, first vice commander for the Department of Florida.