R2-D2 Visits McDonald Army Health Center
August 28, 2013
MCDONALD ARMY HEALTH CENTER, FORT EUSTIS, VA (Aug. 23, 2013) -- In a rare visit, R2-D2 warped through the Star Wars' universe to excite patients here and bring a smile to command and staff members of McDonald Army Health Center.
This replica of the R2-D2 robot is owned and operated by Matthew J. Hammer, who currently serves at MCAHC as an emergency medical technician for Fort Eustis Emergency Medical Services. Hammer enjoys working on his R2-D2, and finds it fitting on occasion to share his robot with others.
"I love it," Hammer exclaimed. "I am constantly tinkering around and working on him all the time; constantly upgrading him; constantly trying to make his parts stronger and more durable to withstand the abuse he receives from kids who like to run up and pull at him."
Pronounced as "Artoo Detoo" and described as "a resourceful and spunky astromech droid," R2-D2 served as a starship mechanic and fighter pilot's assistant. Its cylindrical, mechanical frame featured many arms, sensors, and other useful tools that were used to slice computers, extinguish fires, project holograms, and repair starships.
R2-D2, also called "Artoo," played a significant role in helping his masters and friends overcome many perils.
While supporting such masters as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2-D2 used a language of computer beeps and whistles that could only be understood by some other droids. It is one of only four characters that appeared in all six Star Wars' films, and often seen fussing with his protocol droid companion -- C-3PO.
Hammer's R2-D2 robot has become a fan favorite here, as well. Each time Hammer brings R2-D2 into the health center, the mechanical robot draws a crowd from all the children who see it. Its appearance also offers a nostalgic "blast from the past" to the parents who remember all the excitement that surrounded the Star Wars saga.
"It's all about R2-D2," said Hammer while simultaneously pulling out his R2-D2 wallet and I-Phone with R2-D2 case -- gifts his wife bought for him.
"I have a whole room in my house dedicated to Star Wars' collectibles, and my wife supports me as well," Hammer said. "And, being retired, I have a lot more time on my hands. So, I just decided one day to build one."
A 10-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Hammer was reassigned to MCAHC in 2008 after being "reclassed" from an infantryman with 1/16 Iron Rangers to working as a biomedical technician in the Logistic Division here. The Phoenix, Ariz., native was medically retired in 2009 from injuries he sustained in combat while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2006), but now resides in the local Fort Eustis community with his wife Lena and sons Wilson, 12, and Liam, 8 months … and of course, R2-D2. Hammer is very passionate about this hobby of his, but said he has more work to do on his R2-D2. Although it has taken Hammer two years, and roughly $10,000, to build his R2-D2 robot, he explained that he wants to convert all of his robot's plastic parts into a more durable and permanent metal. While he is committed to building a robot that is as close as possible to an exact replica of the original version, he proudly boasts his R2-D2 "can do everything the robot does in the movie, except fly." "I've always loved Star Wars.
I saw one at a Comic-Con convention, and decided that I wanted to build one of my own," he said. "You can't buy it, so you have to build your own. You can buy a collectible or one of the static ones on EBay every once in awhile, but they are extremely low in quality and a lot of the parts are not right. They are not screen accurate; they don't move or do any of the things that the R2-D2 actually does in Star Wars."
Hammer's R2-D2 is completely hand-made of resin mold, plastic and metal. As a member of the R2 Builders Club, Hammer is able to engage in a public forum where he and other hobbyists can swap ideas and help one another in their efforts to build the "perfect robot." Hammer is proud of his accomplishments and the progress he has made with his R2-D2, and so are many others -- those inspired by his craftsmanship. Stops like this visit at the health center are certain to continue. In addition to bringing excitement here, Hammer's work has been noticed throughout Hampton Roads. Hammer takes his R2-D2 robot to the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters and various charity events throughout the Hampton Roads area. He now looks forward to speaking at the Ring of Fire Convention in Virginia Beach, Feb. 28-Mar. 2, where he will explain what it takes to build an R2-D2 robot.