Hot air ballooning program helps veterans cope


ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A new program at CNM in Albuquerque has paired veterans with hot air ballooning. The goal is to help the soldiers transition from military life to civilian life.

“When I still had my buddies around it was fine and dandy, but when everybody split their ways I definitely felt alone,” said Veteran Patrick Quirino.

Quirino enlisted in the army when he was 25 years old. He spent nearly a year and a half in Afghanistan.

“It was all worth the while and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” said Quirino.

However, life after the war wasn’t so easy.

“Self secluded, you know. It got difficult,” he said.

Quirino enrolled at CNM soon after returned home to Albuquerque, he enrolled at CNM. While there, he said his life took a significant turn.

“When he started the program, he was pretty quiet and now he’s one of the team and he’s having a good time doing it,” said Veteran David Walker.

Quirino and nine other veterans are part of a hot air balloon chase crew called Sky Warriors. It’s all part of a new CNM program designed to help soldiers transition back to civilian life.

“We looked at it more as an opportunity for our vets to escape what traditional therapies might be and move then more toward the reduction of stress through doing something,” said CNM Dean of Students Dr. Rudy Garcia.

“We get to take it, set it up, inflate it, fly it and land it,” said Walker.

Once the balloon lands, the crew gathers it and puts it away.

Quirino said he’s blessed to be a part of the team.

“Putting myself in a situation where I have to get out of the house and go socialize has helped tremendously,” he said.

“For me, I feel like a proud father,” said Garcia.

On Saturday, the group lifted off for the last time concluding the six-week ballooning program.

Each of the veterans who participated received a chase crew certificate.

“It means a lot to me. It means I did something good,” said one veteran.

Nearly 3,000 veterans attend CNM. About 30 of them have signed up to take the next hot air ballooning course.

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