Tom Richmond, Rick Kirkman, Bruce Higdon, Jeff Keane, Chip Bok, Jeff Bacon, Mike Peters, Stephan Pastis
I just returned from a busy week visiting Walter Reed, Bethesda and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center with seven other cartoonists on a USO-sponsored trip to cheer up our wounded warriors. It was an honor to be a part of it all.
The National Cartoonists Society has been going on these sort of trips since WWII, and the tradition continues as our troops fight terrorism around the world. Traveling in the group were:
Jeff Keane (Family Circus)
Mike Peters (Mother Goose and Grimm)
Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues)
Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine)
Tom Richmond (MAD magazine)
Bruce Higdon (Punderstatements and Army cartoons)
Chip Bok (Editorial Cartoonist for the Akron Journal-Beacon)
Jeff Bacon (Broadside, Greenside, Military Times)
Chip Bok, Tom Richmond, Rick Kirkman roaming the halls at Landstuhl RMC
It was as fun a troupe as it was distinguished (present company excepted). Our job was to visit wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen as they recuperate from their injuries, and maybe put a smile or two on their faces in the process. We sat with them and drew cartoons and caricatures to keep as momentos, but mainly we talked and listened. Their stories were a tribute not only to their personal courage, but also to their commitment to the thousands of their brothers and sisters in arms who are still out there. (To keep this article short, I’ll refer to the troops in the masculine sense even though we visited with female warriors too.)
Nobody complained. No one pined about his lot in life. Each was determined to get better, and in many cases, to get back to his buddies who are still fighting the fight. (One soldier had been shot several times, lost a leg, but had already petitioned to be kept on active duty and returned to Iraq.)
The only sadness we saw was when discussing those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. Their memories were still strong and vivid to the survivors, but there was a nobleness in the sorrow. These young Americans have looked war in the face and never blinked, and we felt humble in their presence.
The medical treatment our troops receive is impressive, and part of a complex process that begins on the battlefield and culminates at military hospitals in the United States (usually Walter Reed, Bethesda, Balboa or Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio). When a soldier is injured in Afghanistan or Iraq, he is treated locally then flown as soon as possible to Landstuhl where he is stabilized for the flight across the Atlantic. In many cases the stay is a short one – those who are lightly injured stay overnight near the airstrip at the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF) at Ramstein and leave the next day. If they need more care they are transported to Landstuhl until they can be sent stateside for extended treatment and recuperation.
Recovery is a long process in many cases, but the troops are getting the best treatment in the world. When it’s necessary, they are provided prosthetics and ambulatory aides featuring eye-watering technology. At Walter Reed we were able to visit wounded soldiers undergoing therapy at a new state-of-the-art facility called the Military Advanced Training Facility, where there were more attendants than patients in the room. We have seen similar sites at Brooke and Balboa too.
I can’t talk about patient care without mentioning the USO. It is collocated with every major medical installation, and its empoyees and volunteers are focused like laser beams on the well-being of the troops. At Landstuhl, the USO is building a brand new relaxation/recreation center designed to allow recuperating patients the chance to relax in a low-stress environment. If you are ever undecided about where to send your charitible contributions, look no further than the USO. It will be money well-spent. (The Armed Services YMCA is the dominant service organization for Balboa, so remember them with your contributions as well.)
We all felt that we had received more than we had given by the time we left. Our hosts were gracious and well-organized, and there is no way not to be impressed with the way our wounded troops are being treated. To the USO and the medical professionals who hosted us, thank you for allowing us the privilege of visiting with our injured heroes. To the wounded warriors undergoing treatment, thank you for your service and sacrifice on our behalf. We’ll keep you in our prayers and wish you a speedy recovery.
Thank you card from a school child and donated pillowcase at the CASF