IRCC Resident Relies on Golf for Long-Term Healing from War

BY MARIA SONNENBERG | Senior Life Newspaper – Feb 14, 2023

Ken Gestring enjoys golfing with his service dog, Meli.

Ken Gestring enjoys golfing with his service dog, Meli.

Golf can be vexing and exhilarating. For wounded warrior Ken Gestring, it is also healing.

The camaraderie and challenges of the game have helped the retired Air Force master sergeant heal from the serious physical and psychological injuries he endured while deployed to Afghanistan.

Given a family with a father, four uncles and two brothers in the Air Force or Navy, Gestring knew he would join the military. He signed up in 1986, just before turning 21 in the idyllic-sounding town of Niceville in northwest Florida.

“It was indeed a very nice place to grow up in,” Gestring said.

The stories his middle brother related about his work as a medic at Eglin Air Force sealed the deal.

“I decided it sounded like a cool job,” he said.

His military career included coordinating medical evacuations in the Pacific and, in 2009, deployment to Afghanistan, where he served as senior team medic to provincial reconstruction teams tasked with checking on road and building projects funded by the U.S. government.

“I had been 23 years in the service when I got deployed,” Gestring said.

Ken Gestring treats a fellow service member.

His luck had held for almost a quarter of a century, but the streak would soon end in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

While walking on a mission to locate a project, as a small group of Afghani onlookers watched, Gestring’s team was ambushed by an anti-Afghan forces sub-munitions attack.

“Shrapnel went everywhere,” Gestring said.

He knew he had been hit, but his duty trumped the pain and Gestring went to work.

“He provided care under fire without regard to his own personal safety and injuries he sustained from the blast,” noted Brig. Gen. Dr. Kory Cornum, the 81st Medical Group commander, during a 2010 ceremony honoring Gestring at Keesler Air Force Base.

Gestring treated nine injured coalition forces and three Afghan National Police.

“His immediate response and swift tactical treatment during this mass casualty event saved their lives by preventing their injuries from becoming life-threatening,” Cornum added.

Unfortunately, there were some he could not save. Four Afghan children, part of the group of onlookers, perished.

“The kids were very hard for me to cope with, particularly since they were about the same age as my own children,” Gestring said.

It was only after the team arrived at a medical facility that Gestring discovered the extent of his own injuries. Shrapnel damaged three vertebrae, his rotator cuff, wrist, lower back and leg. He also suffered a traumatic brain injury and PTSD. Gestring removed some of the shrapnel himself and returned to work immediately. He retired in 2011.

He calls his wife, Corina, his “caregiver and his calendar,” since the brain injury makes him forgetful. The couple moved to the Indian River Colony Club last year in part because of the golf.

“Golf has been a huge therapy,” he said.

Not only does it keep his body moving, but the game has connected him with other heroes through competition in the Wounded Warriors Games.

“We communicate a lot through golfing events,” he said.

A sponsor of a special tournament hosted by former President George W. Bush has provided Gestring with a lifetime membership to golf courses across the nation. When he plays, Gestring usually brings along his service Labradoodle, Melo, now a celebrity featured on the Golf Channel.

He knows his injuries will never fully heal, but with the help of the friends he has made through golf and the physical challenges of the game provides him, Gestring is ready for the future.

“Recovery is lifelong,” he said. To watch the George W. Bush Institute interview of Gestring, visit

Book A GetAway!