By Oralia Ortega

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A group of injured service members spent part of an afternoon filled with smiles, laughter and amazement at Jungle Island.

At some point in their lives these men and women suffered through the unimaginable, but during this special event they put their worries aside.

They got up close and personal with some of the animals – from porcupines to baby tigers to snakes.

The injured service members are scheduled to spend the next several days taking part in the Wounded Warrior Project’s annual “Soldier Ride,” which consists of a series of bike rides throughout South Florida.

The kickoff for the event took place at Jungle Island where service members had a chance to bond as they shared stories of what they’ve gone through.

“You can share your experience, you can talk, and they understand,” said Natalia Charles, who says she was injured while serving in the U.S. Army.  “They understand what others don’t understand.”

Although “Soldier Ride” has been held in South Florida for the past 12 years, this is a new experience for everyone in the group.

They say they’re grateful to be able to take part in something that challenges them and gets them moving again.

“You don’t focus on the negative anymore,” said event participant Sebastiana Lopez Arellano. “You say, ‘Well, I can actually go ride a bike. I can go do this. I can hang out with tigers and all the other stuff and big snakes.'”


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