For over three years it has been my honor to welcome home America's wounded warriors. In my job as the chief of the Army's Medical Evacuation CONUS Hospitals, my team and I are charged with representing our senior leadership in greeting and attending to the newly evacuated wounded and accompanying families.
We have met hundreds of wounded warrior flights and thanked thousands of wounded for their service to our country. Additionally, we organize National Capitol Region tours for those evacuated warriors remaining in the area awaiting medical treatment.
Buses stand by to transport sick and injured patients from the Andrews Air Force Base, Va., flightline across base to Malcolm Grow Hospital's 79th Aeromedical Staging Flight, Nov. 3, 2006. (U.S. Army photo by Tom Mani)
Now, a few days before retiring from the Army, I often reflect on what I have learned. The duty has been both inspiring, and very humbling. I've seen great tragedy. I've been a constant witness to others' pain. I've heard many stories of remarkable courage. Most importantly, I've seen the power of resilience and I've learned this: our soldiers are highly resilient men and women, and resilience is crucial to their success.
Each week our team has listened to and documented amazing stories of danger and crisis and necessary struggles for recovery. I will never forget the thousands of hands I shook and eyes I held; all of which share our military path, either themselves wearing the uniform or as loving family members attending to those that do; all of whom manned our nation's ramparts.
One of the things that I tell people when they've asked me to explain what we – our Wounded Warrior Flight team – do is this: we put flesh and blood on statistics. For us, it's not about the numbers or the trends, although those things are also important, it's about the soul. Who are these warriors that are evacuated? What is their story? Who are they as human beings?
You know who America's wounded warriors are: they are an extraordinarily diverse group of amazing men and women. They are young and not so young. They are from America's heartland. They are from inner cities. They are from Guam and Samoa and elsewhere. They are recent immigrants. They are from long and deep-rooted American families, often able to recount war stories from previous generations. Many, incredibly, have hacked their way through a tough life to even get here. They are from intact families and broken homes. And, they are all connected by the idea of service.
It has been said that service is the most important word in the English language. Even the sound of it – service – is powerful, decisive, lingering. It has been my distinct pleasure to serve. The concept of service fascinates me, and I've often asked our wounded warriors why they do it. They've given many reasons.
I remember talking to the wife of one badly wounded soldier. She was a small lady, less than five feet tall. We both stood over the unconscious body of her badly wounded husband. Her answer: “He was bred for it.” I remember leaning over another warrior, an amputee from rural America, and he said, “If not us, Sir, who would do it?” Another warrior, a senior leader, explained it this way, “I thought doing something meaningful would help me feel better about myself.”
Beyond a desire to serve, it is personal resilience which makes it possible. Without a foundation of resilience, it is exceptionally difficult for any wounded warrior to recover and lead a productive life. I think we can learn resilience by studying examples of it. Resilience is reinforced by learning from the experience of others. There is no better place to look than at America's wounded warriors.
By U.S Army Col. Claude Schmid
Medical Evacuation to CONUS Hospitals Team Chief, Joint Forces Headquarters National Capitol Region
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