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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle IX

A Tribute to Battle Buddies

I really didn't understand the significance of the "Battle Buddy" concept prior to my 2008 tour in Iraq.  That was when it hit me that everyone needs someone to look out for their well-being, at least in a general know, make sure that they aren't getting overly depressed, can cope with the situations that inevitably arise, can eat, sleep and perform the military duties expected on a daily basis...a "best friend" on an interim basis at a minimum.  Some battle buddies remain friends for life, and others move on once the deployment/situation is over...doesn't matter...what matters is to have someone there in that moment of need.

The history of the battle buddy concept is sketchy, but it is probably as old as the concept of war and warriors.  Shield-bearers of ancient Greek warriors and those squires that accompanied the knights probably qualified as Battle Buddies.  Sherlock Holmes had Watson, and Charlie Brown had Snoopie (in my opinion, Snoopie was just a little too self-absorbed to really be a great Battle Buddy).  With this in mind, the idea behind the Battle Buddy is to form a bond with a person whom you trust.  Likability is a plus for the relationship, but really, confidence that this person will come to your aid in a variety of situations is the most compelling factor when choosing someone. The commitment is a serious one, and it requires a high degree of trust.  Usually, but not always, the choice of a Battle is same gender if only for logistical reasons.

I have been fortunate in all my mobilizations/deployments to find a special person to call my Battle Buddy, and I hope to keep them as friends for life.  The collective memories of a military tour, especially one involving separation from family and familiar surroundings, are an important emotional link.  I might not actually have a conversation with or actually see that BB in person again once a deployment ends...but the bond will always be there.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle VIII

Random Photos From Across the Camp

Scooby Bus/Van

I walk a lot....literally all the time....I don't use any of the "Scooby Buses" (so called because of the uncanny similarity to the Scooby-Doo cartoon van), and I seldom accept a ride in someone's Prado (common Toyota SUV).  So, I have a lot of opportunities to take in the surroundings and snap a photo here and there.  I have compiled a few whimsical ones to share with those who will not likely visit Kuwait as well as those destined to come here for an Army, Air Force or Navy rotation in the sandbox.  

Not every form of plant life, regardless of reputation for survival in the desert clime, will do well here:

What is a desert bank office without a camel on the sign?

Frisbee golf is quite a popular sport here...

But who knew there would be a desert country club complete with an almost real golf course?

JAG Officer takes a swing

There are lots of choices for places to eat out...if you like fast food..

Starbucks, Taco Bell, Burger King, Pizza Inn, Subway, Nathan's...there isn't enough room on my blog (and there isn't enough Maalox at the PX) to talk about ALL the fast food you can get here...probably not really a good thing, but it makes everyone feel closer to home.

But really, the DFAC is the place Scooby would probably hang out to eat more than anywhere else...not really because it's good, but more importantly, it's FREE...Wow, Scooby snacks for free?  Check out the "Oasis" - an oxymoron on a grand scale.

If you need glasses in a hurry, it's just like at the mall...ready in an hour while you shop!

There's even a feeling that Disney World and Epcot Center are just around the corner...

And also just around the corner...
Another Scooby Bus to take you to Zone 2, Zone 4, Zone 6 or wherever you choose to go...not sure if there's a Zone 3 or's a mystery to be solved by someone else.
Scooby-Doo, where are you?

And at the end of the day, the best part is hearing retreat and watching the sun sink down over the day closer to going home.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle VII

MWR Events
Sometimes it can work to a soldier's advantage to be "stuck" in the middle of nowhere during the holiday season...what?  No, really...the holidays seem to bring out the celebrities en mass even to the remote FOBs, COBs and Camps scattered about the world.  The Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) folks along with the USO do a nice job of booking some great celebrity acts to entertain the troops, and it is really appreciated.

Never in the US would I have had the opportunity to meet a real American Idol...OK, so he wasn't the WINNER that year, but Chris Daughtry was always a winner in my book.  Chris and the band Daughtry along with comedian Gabriel Iglesias and friends toured at nearby Camp Buehring recently, and I attended a "meet and greet" event sponsored by the USO and MWR that was just fabulous.  I had the opportunity to shake the hand of the entire band and get a photo-op as well.  It was truly a thrill...out here in the middle of the sandbox where thrills are few and far between!

Since 1941, the United Service Organization has helped boost troop morale with centers all over the world, and entertainment for service members takes many forms including live shows, care package deliveries with videos, etc., free Internet/email access and many more troop-friendly activities.  The USO relies on donations, so please consider visiting to make a contribution if you are so inclined.

The MWR has a long history as well.  Initially known as the Morale Division, the MWR began in 1918.  Additional organizations including the Army Motion Picture Service (1920) and the Library Service (1923) were added and led to the formation of the “Special Services" in 1941.  Special Services included the Army Recreation Services, the Army Exchange (now known as the Army and Air Force Exchange or AAFES), and the Army Soldier Show.

In Kuwait, I have already collected quite a number of t-shirts courtesy of the MWR for 5K run events to commemorate everything from Veteran's Day to the Marine Corps birthday run....but my new favorite shirt has to be the one from the Daughtry/Iglesias Season's Greetings tour....yep, that's my new fav!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle VI

Deployment Sanity Strategy #3...Run, Forrest, Run

I used to hate to was so boring to me as well as painful.  But there is a certain amount of running that must be done in the Army, so I have always had it in my exercise plan somewhere.  In a deployment setting, I find a running routine to be a comfort as well as a darn good stress reliever.  Exercise physiologists will tell you that any form of physical exertion will cause the release of morphine-like substances, known as endorphins, into the bloodstream.  These endorphins cause that bit of "runner's euphoria" that people who routinely engage in that activity can describe.  It's very real, and it can also be quite addictive.

Of all the things a person could become addicted to, running would certainly be one of the healthiest of possibilities.  There is such a thing as overdoing it and causing injury including stress fractures and arthritis, but when done in moderation, it can be life-enhancing more than destructive.  If I run daily, I usually go at the moderate pace of no faster than 7 miles/hour and for no more than 3 to 4 miles.  I have good shoes, and I try to run on non-road surfaces whenever possible to reduce the impact on my joints.  Once I get past the first mile or two, the whole endorphin thing kicks in, and I can honestly say that I enjoy it. 

During the endorphin-enhanced part of the run, I let my mind wander over events of the day and plans for the future.  I try not to focus on stressful or difficult situations that occurred at work, and instead, I meditate on as many positive aspects of the day as I can.  In fact, I usually write a blog or two in my head while padding the pavement.  For whatever reason, the simple act of putting one leg in front of the other "jogs" my creative juices....pretty soon, I forget about the little annoyances of deployment (and the calluses on my feet!).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle V

Deployment Sanity Strategy #2...You've Got Mail

The mail delivery guy looked at me funny...."you've got a lot of mail," he said, with a strange smile across his face. I saw that his hands were empty, but then I looked past him to see a handcart that was completely stacked to the max with boxes and letters....all for me.  No wonder he gave me that look!  It was not all from the same person; it just so happened that it all came at the same time to our desert hospital facility.  I wasn't complaining.
It turns out that mail, in any physical form, is one of the most welcome sights for a deployed soldier.  The electronic mail is still wonderful, but there's something more special about receiving a card, letter, package or just about anything else via the post.  Plenty of soldiers have a steady stream of mail to keep them occupied and excited about what the day's delivery might bring, but others have virtually zero mail from outside...unless they order something from an online retail shop.

It's easy to help those deployed individuals even if you don't have someone specific in mind whose name  you know.  For instance, my spouse found out that one or our local police officers deployed to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit.  My husband didn't know anything much about this soldier particularly or his unit, but he knew the general kinds of things that might be welcomed in a care package from the States.  He filled a couple of Priority Mail boxes with goodies, toiletries, and other fun stuff, and sent it off into the blue.  What he got back was sincere gratitude.

The grandmother of the deployed soldier from our little town found out what my husband had done, and she went out of her way to seek him out to thank him.  He wasn't looking for thanks, but he was happy to know that his packages found their way into hands that needed them and hearts that appreciated their meaning.  It is truly the thought that counts with mail.  It could be a few lines scrawled on a simple postcard or an elaborate "singing" Hallmark just doesn't matter.  As we enter the holiday season, I am hoping that more people will take the initiative as my husband did, and they will keep those cards and letters coming.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle IV

Deployment Sanity Strategy #1...Skype
I'm lucky...I only have to commit to 90 days in any given theater of operations because I am an Army Reserve physician...but many of my soldier colleagues have at least a year to spend at any given time.  That's hard.  It's hard to be away from family and friends, and even the family dog or cat might feel the pain of loss.  In the age of total connectivity, I have found solace in the ability to use voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP) to keep in touch.

There are many ways to message folks at home including video emails, instant messaging via an email provider like Yahoo or Gmail, but I have found Skype to be the most versatile and reliable means.  My family members can set up their own accounts and "invite" others to their contact list.  I can "see" when one or more are online (unless they choose to block me!), and I can call their computer for a video or voice chat for free.  Setting up a conference video call does have an associated cost with a premium Skype membership, but I have opted to keep it simple with one-at-a-time video calls to a family computer only. 

For a fee, a Skype member can call a cellphone number as well; however, I now use a free smart phone app called NetTalk for VOIP connections to my cellphone using friends and family.  As long as I have a wireless Internet connection, I'm golden.

Deployment always poses communication challenges for families, and that adds to the stress that soldiers must deal with on a routine basis.  The addition of readily available Internet access in deployment settings has gone a long way toward assisting military personnel maintain that vital connection with home.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

Why do we traditionally honor our veterans on November 11th each year?  There is a very good reason indeed because it was supposed to be the end of "the war to end all wars" - WWI.  Well, clearly that did not happen as people had hoped, but when a temporary cessation of hostilities between Germany and the Allied countries went into effect at that hour of that day in the month of November 1918, the basis for honoring veterans on Veteran's Day was born.  The actual end of WWI was months later.

It was President Wilson who first declared that this day be set aside to honor the fallen of WWI, and it was initially known as "Armistice Day."  In 1938, the name was changed through the legislative process to "Veteran's Day."  President Eisenhower championed the national observance of the day by establishing a Veterans Day National Committee to coordinate and bring together all the veteran's organizations and the general public.  Those actions facilitated the national holiday that we observe to this day for all veterans of all wars, living and deceased.

It was my great privilege to honor my father, a WWII Army veteran as well as my father-in-law, a WWII Navy veteran on 11.10.2011 as I pinned on the rank of COL.  It was with their service and sacrifice in mind that I humbly accepted this new responsibility to represent our Nation as a uniformed service member.  It would have been an even greater honor to do so on the day that we traditionally honor our veterans, but they were in my thoughts at that moment.  Today, as I wore the symbol of my new rank for the first full day, Veteran's Day 2011, I felt very proud indeed to participate in the many traditions of our armed forces.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle III

Change of Command
It's kind of a big deal, and people know it...when it's time to send one group home and welcome in another, the military branches all like to incorporate a certain degree of pomp and circumstance.  In the case of the turnover of the Expeditionary Medical Facility Kuwait from the hands of the Navy, the hospital not only received a new commander, it received a new name: the US Military Hospital Kuwait.  The 325th Combat Support Hospital (FWD) took the reins officially in a ceremony with a melding of Navy pomp and Army circumstance.

The Naval tradition for change of authority dates back to the Civil War, and apparently not much has changed over all that time.  The new commander and the outgoing commander walk to the ceremonial area together and are "piped aboard" by the boatswain's mate. There is typically an honor guard to parade the colors, the singing or playing of the national anthem, and an invocation. The outgoing Commander usually makes a speech and then reads the orders that detach the officer and crew from whatever the present duty assignment.  Such was exactly the case with the Expeditionary Medical Facility Kuwait.

For Army change of command (COC), the ceremony dates to the 18th century.  It is usually led by the battalion commander and battalion command sergeant major.  With the soldiers in formation, the master of ceremonies recounts the history of the unit and a bio of the incoming and outgoing commanders. The guidon is exchanged between the first sergeant, outgoing commander, incoming commander, and the battalion commander.  The orders to assume command are read aloud followed by a short speech by the incoming/outgoing commanders and battalion whistles involved. 

The mash-up of the Army and Navy change of command/authority worked well despite the lack of an Army band or the deck of a ship.  The finest traditions of each service branch were observed enough to satisfy all the participants.  In the end, the mission goes on under the same colors of red, white and blue: provide excellent medical care for our warriors.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle II

To The Color

I was engrossed in my habitual evening run on the track when it blared out from the GIANT VOICE, i.e. the loudspeakers that blanket Camp Arifjan; it was the bugle call for "Retreat" followed closely by "To The Color."  My run abruptly terminated as I came to attention and rendered honors to the Flag.  This is a daily event on Army installations across the US (and the world), but it stopped my usual activities for a moment and caused me to reflect upon the day, the mission and the symbol our Nation.

The history of the bugle call is long and distinguished, but even before there were bugles, there were drums.  Drums constitute the original "you've got mail" messaging system, and their place in tribal history is well-known.  But the use of bugles for calls to arms as well as all the other daily soldiering tasks, is much more modern.  The British introduced the bugle in Colonial America, and the instrument was used as a signal in the American Army during the Revolutionary War. The unique calls evolved out of the interaction between the Continental Army and the French and English armies.  Eventually, each branch of the Army developed its own set of signals.  The Infantry used drum beats while the Cavalry and Artillery used bugle calls.

The day begins with "Reveille," and there are a series of bugle calls that follow until "Taps."  Taps has its own unique history dating back to the Civil War.  It began as a revised version of "Lights Out" to mark the end of the day, and it was likely borrowed from the French.  However, Civil War General Danial Butterfield wanted a kinder, gentler end to the evening, and in 1862, the Taps as we know it was born.

I am a trumpet player through and through, and one of the very first tunes I ever played was Taps.  It is played, of course, at military funerals, and the emotions that hearing that simple, haunting tune evoke cannot adequately be described...they must be felt.  Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines all keenly feel a certain sadness whenever Taps is played.  We wear our military pride and tradition in our hearts, and that lilting melody tugs at the strings every time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kuwait Chronicle I

A Bit of History:

It seems like forever, but it really hasn't been that long since Saddam Hussein ordered his troops to invade and occupy neighboring Kuwait...his justification?  Oil, of course - he accused the Kuwaiti Government of siphoning off oil from the fields along the border and mistakenly assumed that his Arab neighbors would support his claim.  A little later (mid-January 1991), President George H.W. Bush sent US military assets into action in Operation Desert Storm. Along with a coalition of nations to include Britain, France, Germany, the Soviet Union, Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and a few other countries, air strikes were initiated against the Iraqi communications network, weapons plants and oil refineries. 

The air attacks using laser and infrared-guided "smart" bombs were relentless and effective such that by mid-February, ground forces came in via Saudi Arabia.  They were able to encircle and ultimately defeat Saddam's forces, including his elite Republican Guard.  The war came to an end by 28 February of that same year....we've been in Kuwait ever since.

The Present:

This week marks the second time I have visited Kuwait's sands, and not much has changed.  During my Iraq deployment in 2008, I merely passed through the country on my way to/from Tikrit, Iraq as do nearly all deployed troops.  This time, I am here to stay for a 3 month tour.  The sand is still hot, and the wind still blows it all into my face and into everything I own!  Still, there are good features like relatively comfortable living quarters ("the pods") and an excellent, although small, military treatment facility to work in.

Formerly operated by the Navy, an Army Combat Support Hospital (CSH) now occupies the MTF here.  Most of my colleagues drill together as a unit, but they are all new to me...and they're all consummate medical/dental professionals and clinical support personnel.  It is a pleasure to be associated with such a cohesive group even though I will only get to work with them for one quarter of their year-long tour.  It promises to be a good ride.
There's even a bit of home here at Camp Arifjan, a ubiquitous and very appreciated Starbucks!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Day the Music Stopped - Remembering 911

It was going to be such a perfect day.  I had just done something nice for someone who didn’t expect it, and I was still basking in the good feelings that go along with giving gifts.  There was no way I could have known that a horrible disaster was befalling our Nation at that very moment.  “Debbie,” I hailed one of our nursing staff as I walked to the back of my medical office with a giant smile on my face.  “I have no idea why, but I feel so good today.”  The words were barely out of my mouth when I noticed that she paused, as if listening to something in the distance.  
Our office radio was tuned to a local pop station when the music suddenly stopped, replaced by a newscaster’s serious voice announcing that a commercial jet had hit the World Trade Center.  The events that followed are now burned into our collective memory.  We watched replay after dreadful replay of the tragedy at both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on a tiny portable TV brought in by one of our staff.  My joyous smile was a distant memory.
It was tough to see patients that day and in the days that followed.  They sensed my difficulty in focusing on the tasks at hand, and I found myself losing a train of thought often.  I was supposed to be heading out to a medical conference with my practice partner in the weeks after September the eleventh, but the event was in New York City.  “I really don’t see myself getting on a plane to New York right now,” my partner told me. 
Actually, that trip was the last thing on my mind.  I was thinking about the fact that I already had an application in place with the US Army Reserves and was in the midst of an attempt to become re-commissioned in the Medical Corps.  After accruing nearly twelve years of prior service toward retirement, I had resigned my commission in the US Army in the late 1990’s.  I was not thinking about the long-term repercussions then; I was only thinking about the commitment I had just made to a private gynecology practice.  The US was involved in various world conflicts as I was leaving active duty, and I really didn’t want to get a callback.  The easiest way for me to diminish my risk then was to resign, giving up the equivalent of a good 401K plan in the process.  In order to get back in, I would have to go through a somewhat cumbersome re-commission process.
            “Surely you’re not going to join the Reserves right now,” was the most common statement made to me over the days that followed the terrorist nightmare.  Friends and colleagues asked me to reconsider, citing the fact that numerous Reserve units had already been activated.  At first, those types of comments offended me, and I thought, how shallow do these people think I am?  That was exactly the right time to join, in my view.  Still, I had two small children, a spouse, and a good job to consider.  The decision was not straightforward.  My patients were not happy with me either.  More than a few of them wondered aloud whether or not I would be there for them in the future, thinking that I could be called at any moment to go serve. 
            It turned out that I waited three years to get any sort of call-up for duty after I was re-commissioned, and the duty was here in the US for three months.  It was actually pretty easy to get away for that limited amount of time, and there was little danger involved with moving temporarily to Fort Knox, Kentucky!  Still, I admit that it was difficult to be apart from my family for that mobilization.  In my absence, the gynecology practice survived and even thrived such that my patient’s worries proved unfounded.
            Since that first mobilization tour in 2005, I have gone to various places including Iraq and other places, and through it all, I have never regretted my decision to re-commission for even a fraction of a moment. People say that the world as we knew it changed forever as a result of terror on American soil, but I’m not so sure.  The threat has always surrounded us, we simply filtered out the noise of hatred against our lifestyles and freedoms in favor of going about our daily business.  I joined the Army Reserves just as I had planned before September 11, 2001, and I also got back to my normal life.  In my heart, I knew the hatred wouldn’t stop the music forever.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Why do We Serve?

When I get the chance to sit down with a soldier and really talk, I almost always ask them why they entered into military service.  I usually get answers in one of these categories: they have a career goal but need money for education; they have a close family member who has served, and they want to carry on the tradition; they are looking for adventure and like the idea of going to exotic places to serve.  In my case, there was more than just a single answer, and the desire to join the Army encompassed the need for education funds, upholding a family tradition AND the desire for adventure.

Medical education is not cheap, and the costs are rising by the year - yet the income of most physicians has been stagnant for the past decade.  That makes paying off huge educational loans a real challenge.  Back in 1985, I didn't really have a plan B regarding how I would manage the medical school bills, but the Army Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) stepped in to help.  I had to have my letter of acceptance from an accredited US medical school in hand before I could apply for the program, and once I received that notification of approval, I was on my way.  I had NO idea what a ride it would be, but looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.  More on that in a future blog post.

The family tradition piece comes from my father, a WWII-era veteran.  He enlisted in the Army as soon as he could after high school, and although he never got a chance to serve overseas, his heart was clearly on the battlefield.  He was a typical teenager in the 30's - jobs were hard to come by, and military service was clearly an option for many to consider even before America entered the war. With basic training completed, my dad was sent to Camp Murphy in Florida for Signal Corps specialty training in radar - he always did love electronic gadgets.  It was at West Palm Beach that the reality of the war hit home.  Here is an excerpt from his memoir:
"One night as I walked down the beach with a friend we saw a huge flash of light out on the ocean. This was followed by the sound of a huge explosion. We knew at once that a German U boat, many of which prowled these waters, had scored a hit."
With the attack on Pearl Harbor, many raced to to join up in all branches of service, and clearly there was a similar rush after 911.  We continue to be a nation at war with over ten years in Afghanistan and nearly that many in Iraq under the belt.  Men and women with a desire to serve are an ongoing need, and even though there are potential risks to military service, the benefits are clearly there.
The adventure aspect of my why-I-joined-the-Army story is complicated.  I could have chosen to go to Airborne School, but I didn't.  I could have been a Flight Surgeon, but I wasn't.  I might have opted to go to Somalia in the place of one of my OBGYN colleagues in the era of "blackhawk down" - but I stayed home.  So where was I getting my adventure fix?  Just delivering babies and doing surgeries turned out to be plenty of adventure for me, and I had all I could handle!  Still, it is nice to know that many of these options to serve remain open to me even 22 years into my career.  I can still go to Airborne School, Flight Surgeon training or Afghanistan - and maybe I will.  I did appreciate the opportunity to serve in Iraq in 2008, and soon, I will begin a tour in Kuwait to round out the year - the service to my fellow soldiers and fellow Americans goes on - they are my "why."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

SSG Shilo Harris and the Warrior Ethos

No one can imagine or begin to understand the living hell that struck like a bolt of lightening one dark day on the sandy byways of Iraq.  An armored vehicle was blown apart, and three American soldiers lost their lives at that moment.  Although two soldiers in the driver's compartment survived, one would suffer severe burn injury to his hands, upper body and face in addition to orthopedic injury.  That man is SSG(R) Shilo Harris.  With his wife by his side, Shilo has begun to move beyond his own devastating wounds and into the realm of reaching out to other wounded warriors.  He also takes a moment now and then to speak to those of us who need to hear his story...the story of an American Soldier...without ears, the tip of his nose and some fingers...but with a big heart.

I was privileged to meet this heroic wounded warrior extraordinaire at a luncheon in San Antonio, Texas.  Shilo was speaking to a group of civilian and military doctors, nurses and hospital/medical administrators in an effort to educate us all in exactly how the warrior ethos plays out in real life.  SSG Harris has an amazing tale to tell, and he continues to share his ongoing transition to civilian life after receiving those horrific burn injuries in the IED blast in 2007.  He feels that his story is an important lesson in managing the needs of both the soldier and his family when a catastrophic injury occurs.

His story is especially inspiring to those whose mission it is to care for wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines as they defend our freedoms from far away.  Shilo and his wife Kathreyn share their experiences in the Army medical system and the lessens that those experiences bring to all of us who medically serve these very special Americans. In the days immediately following his injuries and subsequent evacuation to Germany and then to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, not everything worked for Shilo and his family as well as we would all have hoped.  But the Army Medical Department took heed of the  deficiencies and made end-roads toward developing a more compassionate and comprehensive system of wounded warrior care and family support on a global scale.

The Army Medical Department has established Warrior Transition Units to assist the individual soldiers as well as their family members in navigating the labyrinth of issues involved in recovery and integration back into civilian life.  This system is not yet seamless, but the advances since SSG Harris was injured in 2007 have been substantial.  Privately garnered funding (individual donations and corporate sponsorship) has made state-of-the-art facilities like the Center for the Intrepid a reality.  The Fisher House, an unprecedented project to shelter the families of wounded warriors as their loved one recovers over months or even years, was made possible by the generous gifts of Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher.  These facilities meet an otherwise neglected need to put a soldier's support system, his or her family, in immediate proximity to where their rehabilitation is conducted.

SSG Harris is now actively involved in the Wounded Warrior Project, a worthy cause that supports the multifaceted issues that come with catastrophic injuries of war.  SSG Harris and his comrades in arms across the world in service to this Nation embody the Warrior Ethos:
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade

In these ongoing wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, our American heroes who have sustained combat injury, whether it is visible as in an amputated leg or invisible as in traumatic brain injury (TBI), need our support now more than ever.  The advances of Army medicine on and off the battlefield have allowed many more soldiers to come back home alive, but they sometimes return with physical and psychological needs that must be met for years to come.  Their families cannot bear the burden alone, and all Americans need to step up with a helping hand to these courageous and selfless men and women of our Armed Forces.

Meanwhile, Shilo Harris goes on speaking and inspiring and opening the eyes of civilians and military alike with his unbridled enthusiasm for the Army Medical Department and the role that his doctors, nurses, corpsman and others played in his recovery and rehabilitation. He told a few anecdotes about what it's like to get along without the benefit of his God-given ears, but he was very pleased to report that he had a new set of prosthetic ones.  "So where are your ears today?" I couldn't help but inquire of him at the end of his lunchtime talk.   He said that his brand new "regular" ears needed some further adjustment to alleviate soreness on his skin, but next time, he promised to wear his "Spock" pair just for fun...who knew?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Farewell To The Old Walter Reed

It was an unlikely place for me to be since I normally found any excuse to miss a military ball, but there I was – it was May of 2009, and I was surrounded by a crowd of revelers to celebrate 100 years of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center (formerly known as Walter Reed General Hospital). This was the last hurrah before the medical center was moved to Bethesda, MD.  It was strictly a black tie affair, so the military attendees were bedecked in their Dress Mess uniforms making dancing a ridiculous proposition, but dance they did.  There was a great deal to celebrate that night because the history of Walter Reed is rich, but to think of it in the past tense made me more sad than celebratory.
 Its beginnings were quite humble with the forerunner of the hospital being a health clinic at Fort McNair.  But in 1909, the new Walter Reed General Hospital was born.  Unfortunately, its namesake, Major Walter Reed, had already died some seven years earlier of a ruptured appendix at the young age of 51.  He had already accomplished more to advance medical science in his middle years than most of us can dream of in two lifetimes of medical practice.  The honor of his name was bestowed on the hospital because of his landmark work in combating deadly yellow fever and the many lives that were saved.

Over the course of a century, the hospital grew from 80 beds to the enormous medical center that it is today.  Building 1”, as the original hospital was known, admitted the first patient in May of 1909.  Hundreds of thousands of military personnel and their families have subsequently received treatment.  But Walter Reed is most recently renowned for the treatment of wounded warriors from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In 2007, a series of reports in the Washington Post sparked a scandal that was highly publicized and politicized but ultimately led to positive changes in the way soldiers in transition from war are treated.
As part of the culture of change that was needed to bring back the bruised reputation of WRAMC, Disney Corporation, world-renowned for their customer service focus, was brought into the organization to help set things back on track.  A one-stop-shop Warrior Clinic was founded that made access to care much more convenient and efficient.  A concierge service for families of wounded warriors was adopted, and greeters were strategically placed at all the hospital entrances to begin the day with a smile and an offer of assistance.
While Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were quite helpful, ultimately, it was time to move on from the old Walter Reed.  As of September 15, 2011, Walter Reed Army Medical Center has relocated and renamed as planned under the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC).  Combining with the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, the new facilities constitute the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) where the care of soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen goes on.  I will miss the old campus with its historic beauty and significance in the advancement of medical science.  I will miss those amazing hallways of Building 1 with the portraits of commanders past (and perhaps a few ghosts).  I will miss the basement tunnel and Building 1's rickety elevators…ok, maybe not the elevators!  Farewell WRAMC.