11 NOV 2007 A race for veterans
It is a rare and curious honor to be deployed in the service of my country on Veteran's Day. We have had several reminders as this week has led up to today. There were posters of Gary Trudeuaus work on the the Iraq War featuring character BD's traumatic amputation in the field. (This article contains the image featured in the poster: http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2006/10/12/doonesburys_sandbox_chronicles.php ) There is a flag flying program so service members can have a flag flown aboard a mission on Veterans' Day. Today there was a naturalization cerermony for soldiers who have gained their citizenship through service. Tomorrow there will be a Veterans' Day 5k race and I think I'll get these old bones up at 0500 so I can run.
My friend L. with the USO went to the Naturalization ceremony today. She sait that she was crying nearly the entire time. It was so inspiring to see brand new citizens who are our freshest contrymen and women. It does surprise me that more people don't take advantage of naturalization through service. I would think with that route to citizenship open the military would not have the huge problem it does hitting recruitment goals. I do admit it is a dear price to pay for citizenship with the threat to life and limb as well as the separation from loved ones, and I proudly welcome these new citizens with my awe and appreciation. We who were born on US soil got in far easier. (Fact sheet on naturalization through service: http://www.uscis.gov/files/pressrelease/MilitaryNatzFS062107.pdf )
I want to briefly tell you the story of my friend N. He is a soldier who was injured while serving in Iraq in 2005. His truck was overturned and his arm was nearly severed. He came to our hospital, and my buddies Vascular surgeon T. and Orthopedic surgeon R. worked for hours on microscopic blood vessel and nerve repairs to save his arm. We held an emergency blood drive to give him the transfusions he needed. It still astounds me that we were able to provide that service in a war zone. He returned to his station where he continued his important work training soldiers, all the while working hard on exhausting physical therapy and exercises to regain the use of his arm.
I'll tell you that most of the troops I treat I never see or speak with again. There are so many coming through our hospital at such a steady flow, that there never is time to track down the ones who have moved on in the pipeline home. I don't get to tell them how impressed I am with their spirit to survive and give them my thanks. The few that I meet tell me that they have either blurry or absolutely no memories of Balad, which I consider to be a great mercy. Last summer I visited the Center for the Intrepid with a friend. The Center for the Intrepid is a rehabilitation facility built on the grounds of Fort Sam Houston next door to Brooke Army Medical Center. It was completely built with $8 million in privately donated funds. This included pennies from San Antonio schoolchildren and million dollar donations from Denzel Washington and Rosie O'Donnell. While we were there, we watched a man with both legs amputated work a kayak across the indoor pool. My friend asked me "Did you do his operation?" All I could offer in reply was that I had no idea. Even if he gave me his name, I would never have been able to remember if I had been his doctor one bloody day long ago.
So it is very dear and rewarding to me that my friend N. has been generous enough to let me know how his life has gone since we treated him in Balad. He has faced obstacles and has overcome them like the true hero that he is. He has even visited my hospital back home in San Antonio. I know full well that the credit for maintaing contact with N. goes to one of the most wonderful people in the world, ER technician H. who is more alive than 10 normal humans. She had always been a source of encouragement to me and many other people. H. forwards to me any news from N. and makes sure that we all get together whenever he is anywhere near South Texas. She is the kind of person who is the human glue that keeps friends together through time and distance.
A few days ago, H. sent me some pictures of N. and other veterans competing in a race. It moved me deeply and I was so proud of him and the other participants. Tomorrow I will shuffle along in our Veterans' Day race, but I didn't have to walk through a valley of prolonged and painful rehabilitation to get there. I did feel like our team had a little part in his successes, but that acknolegement mainly brought a sense of humility and privilege to work on people so brave. I'll follow this post with the pictures so you can see for yourself.
My brother asked me for my thoughts to share with his high school student on Veteran's day. Hopefully I'm not scooping him by posting them here, but I wanted to tell you all how I felt as well.
As you will read below, you veterans and families of veterans have my profound and humble thanks.
Hello and happy Veterans' Day to you. I know that in any gathering of our citizens, there is bound to be a veteran present and if not, there will be a child or spouse of a veteran. I start by saying thank from me and my entire family for what you have given us through your service.
Less than one percent of our population serves in the active duty military. Including the national guard and reserves brings that figure to less than two percent. We few who serve are very fortunate indeed. It is a proud honor to make our own small individual attempt to pay back the benefits we receive through our citizenship. When I was young, I travelled abroad. I visited countries where military service was mandatory for all citizens. I was shocked to see that these countries with high unemployment rates and few services to the public had compulsory miltary service while my country did not. That experience motivated me to try and give something back for the life I am given as an American.
There are days when I sorely regret my decision to join the military. Today I am far from home in Iraq, and every day I see tragic injuries to troops and civilians in this war. But I will never regret one second of the time and effort I have spent as a doctor for troops and their families in the service of my country. When I compare the chaos and sensless taking of life here to the stability and safety that my family enjoys at home, I feel that I could serve a hundred years and still not earn the blessings we have been given as Americans. I am very proud to be a part of my military family.
As I spend Veteran's day in Iraq, I suspect that the main emotion I will feel is how dearly I miss my family. In the missing of that life it is very clear to me how precious it is. That life is all the sweeter because it is on United States soil.
I would tell you on Veterans' Day, do not feel bad for me or worry for me. I am lucky to get up every day and try to do my job as best I can. It is my great privilege to do that job in support of my fellow troops and our great nation. If you wish to thank a veteran, do it in this way. Exercise your freedoms. Speak up and make your views known. If you see a way our country can do better, take an active role to make it so. Don't ever let anyone take away your rights. We have them because veterans fought and died for us. You honor veterans best when you do your part to make this nation serve the people, all the people.