More than a dozen men shoot across the ice at Northwood Ice Center, wearing complete ice hockey uniforms, except that they’re sitting on sleds and using their arms to accelerate and turn.
"I grew up in Puerto Rico, I'd never been on ice,” Victor Bernal said. “So my wife got me into it. She said, 'hey, you love watching it, so why not play it?'"
He now plays goalie for the San Antonio Rampage Sled Hockey Team, which functions primarily as therapy for wounded warriors recuperating from paralysis, amputation or un-checked anger.
'It help us a lot with PTSD and stuff like that,” Moses Sonera said, suited up and ready to hit the ice.
"Sled hockey is great anger management,” said Janis Roznowski, “ ‘cause they can just get out there and fight it out..."
She started the local sled hockey program in 2007 as part of Operation Comfort. It’s a larger non-profit she launched four years earlier to offer adaptive activities for service members wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.
At the time, she was a full-time flight attendant with American Airlines. "It began with just visiting them in the hospital,” she said. She had volunteered to join American Airline crews shuttling U.S. service members between Frankfurt, Germany and Kuwait City. In between her flights, she reached out to the wounded warriors – many of whom had been her passengers.
Her part-time effort quickly expanded. She wrote letters, bought computers and even helped remodel a BAMC waiting room in San Antonio to better suit the needs of the service members in treatment there.
"If you're doing something positive, it feels really good,” she said. “So I said, 'if its working, let’s keep on going!'"
By then, Operation Comfort had been established as a 501C3, but when she retired from the airline industry, it went into high gear. She recruited sponsors and more volunteers to help with her vision.
“The people of San Antonio are awesome! They're the reason why it's Military City, USA," she said. "They love the military and they care!”
Operation Comfort now has a $500,000 annual budget, a board of directors and a staff of seven - all focused on serving wounded warriors being treated at BAMC or Audie Murphy.
"There's only seven of us; we work really well with each other, we all have fun, and we all have the common denominator of heart, and taking care of our veterans," she said.
Back on the ice, the hockey team has worked on teamwork and timing today. They are focused and fierce competitors, with a record of success both in therapy and in competition. This team produced players that have won gold in two recent Paralympics Games, in Sochi, Russia and Pyongyang, South Korea.
“It makes us feel that we still belong, after our injuries,” Bernal said. “We can still do everything that we did before, maybe in a different manner, but we are still capable of doing all those things that we love doing."
Sled hockey's one of five activities Operation Comfort offers, but it's by far the most successful.
"We've produced four paralympians who have won the gold medal, some have won two!” said Roznowski, beaming.
And San Antonio wouldn't have sled hockey or sled hockey gold, if not for one flight attendant who wanted to serve those who've served us all. That's why she's another one of the people who make San Antonio great!