6:58 AM 14 January 2011
Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital is located in Washington D.C. This is where many of our wounded service people go when they get to the States after being injured or wounded. Yesterday, I visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) for the second time. The first time was at the suggestion of a friend of mine. COL W. suggested that I visit WRAMC whenever I am in D.C. I will be honest with you and tell you that I am not a fan of visiting hospitals. I don’t know many people who are, but I decided that I needed to go. At Walter Reed, I visited with about eight soldiers from the US Army Special Operations Command that were up on Ward 57. Ward 57 is the orthopedic ward where many of the soldiers go after being medically evacuated out of the war zone. I visited with the soldiers, parents, and wives. All of the soldiers I spoke with were anxious to recover and return to duty.
For me, this visit was the beginning a long journey into personal reflection. My visit spurred me to do something more, but what? We had already started a not-for-profit foundation and were very active, so what could I do that could make a difference? Someone suggested that I write a blog about the foundation and our activities, but I thought to myself, “Who would read a blog that I wrote?” That is the question I kept asking myself every time I turned on the computer and came to the WordPress.com website. I know a few people who write blogs and they are very personal in nature. My daughter writes a blog and she writes beautifully and from the heart. I also have another friend who writes a blog about her husband’s recovery. I can see her blog as being extremely important in letting friends and family know his condition on a daily basis; however, that begs the question: “Why should I write a blog?” The answer is this: I want to relate the experiences that we have as a Foundation and the people we meet. If this blogs spurs one person to action, I will feel that we have accomplished something.
“The Cost of Freedom”
Yesterday, I visited one of my friends who was now recovering from wounds incurred just before Christmas. We had served on the same Special Forces “A” Team. After I had received the inital phone call, things were kind of blurry. Initially, we weren’t even sure how bad he had been hit. Immediately, many of us were searching for information from various sources: the command, friends, and relatives. It didn’t matter where the information came from, we just wanted to know how he was doing. It didn’t take long, but we started getting a regular flow of information and the biggest question that all of us worried about was, “did he and his family need anything?”
As the days became weeks, several of us made plans to go visit our friend; however, we couldn’t get things coordinated for a group visit, so we started going as we are able. My turn came on 12 January. I caught a flight out to D.C that day and made my way to Walter Reed on the 13th. As I arrived at the hospital, I knew where I was going from the previous visit – only this time I was a lot more anxious as I knew whom I was visiting. I got to his room and there he was: bruised, wounded, in pain, but his eyes lit up when he saw me. His wife said that every time he gets a visitor that he knows, it really makes him happy. We visited about old times, talked about family, and just passed the time talking about whatever he wanted to talk about. It wasn’t long after I had arrived that two more people came to visit: his Battalion Commander and the Battalion Senior Warrant Officer.
As we were talking another wounded SF soldier came in. He was escorted by his wife. J had been serving with his Special Forces Team when he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device. He lost both legs and his hand. As J entered the room, it was apparent that J came to give encouragement to my friend. We all talked for a little bit and the conversation was led by J and my friend. After J left, Major General Campbell came in. Major General Campbell is the Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division. He was on leave from Afghanistan and came to visit his soldiers in the hospital. Since my friend was from the same post, the 101st had also adopted him to make sure he was getting all that he needed.
The 13th of January was a little different day for my friend and that was good. Another surprise that he got was a luncheon. The luncheon was hosted by the US Army Special Operations Command’s Deputy Commander and Command Sergeant Major. They were there to look in on our soldiers and their families. We all attended the luncheon and listened to the questions and responses led by the Brigadier General and the Command Sergeant Major. Now most people might think that there would be complaining about the food, or the hospital service, but not here. No, that was not the case. Each person in attendance was positive: looking forward and not backward.
My friend had to leave the luncheon for his orthopedic rehabilitation training that was at the MATC. We wondered what MATC meant and we were soon to find out. You may be asking how this relates to the blog’s title, “The Cost of Freedom”. Here is why. As we walked into the MATC, which by the way is an acronym that stands for Military Advanced Training Center, we saw many soldiers who bore the scars of their wounds. These soldiers were learning how to walk, how to function with their capabilities. I choose NOT to say disabilities as these soldiers are determined to recover and get back to living.
As we watched our friend struggle through the regimen, we also watched others going through similar therapy. We saw many young people who at any other time might have been at the mall or at a university learning how to be a teacher, lawyer, or some other noble profession. Instead they had chosen to respond to the call of service. They chose to serve their country in a time a war. One young person that really hit home to me was a young female in her early twenties. She had lost her leg. Instead of attending college, she was learning how to use a new leg. She reminded me so much of my daughter; however, my daughter will never know the sacrifice of this young lady or how her life was changed in the blink of an eye.
The cost of freedom is visible in the MATC in a way you will never see on the street. Their new mission is not to defend our country, but to get well and live a good life. As you listen to their conversations, one strong cord resonates: don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t say, “at least you’re alive.” Yes, they are thankful to be alive, but they do not want to be pitied nor felt sorry for. They don’t want to be told what they can’t do, but discover what they can do and how to do what they love, but in a new way.
I am humbled by their bravery, their love of our country, and how much they have sacrificed. All of our service men and women put their lives on the line in distant lands so that we may have safety and security here at home – so that we may enjoy the fruits of freedom.