Last week, I took a trip to San Antonio, Texas. It was a sobering visit to the Center for the Intrepid, right next door to Brooke Army Medical Center, on Ft. Sam Houston. The Center is a central location for providing rehabilitation for recovering troops wounded in the war, specifically for those with amputations and burns. The large hospital staff works to speed the recovery of the troops to return them to the highest levels of physical, psychological and emotional function. There are even some quarters nearby for family to stay in; family support can be a major contributor to healing.
It was an interesting visit on many levels to me. First, it's a compelling subject as a photography story. Most Americans don't give a second thought about the people behind the casualty statistics. This facility is top-notch, and the good work happening there needs to be recognized. Next, I am a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project (whose presence is everywhere in the Center), so it's always good to see my donations at work. Finally, I'm a retired Army officer, with an Army officer son in a combat unit, so soldiers and their welfare are important to our family.
I wish I had the ability to make that in-depth photo study, but I wasn't being sponsored by either the Army or Wounded Warrior Project. I was there for a couple hours of snapshots - recording images for a Family Readiness Group. You can learn more about the Center for the Intrepid here. You can volunteer to assist the Wounded Warrior Project or donate to their mission here.
I went to the Center with my son to meet and photograph some wounded soldiers from his brigade. He spent both days at the Center on an official visit with them and some of their family members.
These unit visits may seem trivial to civilians, but they are important to soldiers. Teamwork and unit cohesion are crucial to the military. They foster a closeness and camaraderie that are hard to explain, but strongly felt by members of the unit. The visits help maintain the bond and let the wounded soldiers know that they are still members of the unit and not forgotten. In fact, these soldiers were looking forward to returning to Alaska when the brigade returns from Afghanistan. The First Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division, "Arctic Wolves," will be home before June. These troops want to be back with their team for the homecoming festivities. If they are fit to travel, the Army will send them there.
I was in the main lobby, not in the wards, so I only met soldiers well into their recovery. These soldiers were no longer self-conscious of their prosthetics. One just plopped down on the floor for a conversation, like we were at a Saturday afternoon picnic. They don't want your pity - just a chance to move on with their lives.
It was a visit all Americans should make. As you can see, I didn't make any great photographs in the few hours I had with these soldiers. That wasn't really my goal on this trip. I was just there to provide a simple task for these young soldiers. Anyone could have done it, but I was lucky enough to be asked. Thanks, guys.