Single Soldiers, volunteers share Patriot Day with wounded warriors at Landstuhl
September 14, 2010
LANDSTUHL, Germany - Taking care not to bump his busted ankle, Pvt. Michael Waskon pushed his wheelchair up to the barbeque serving line at the USO Warrior Center, hoping for seconds.
A week earlier, Waskon, 19, of Linton, Ind., a M240 machine gunner with the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, was injured when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan.
On Sept. 11, volunteers from U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern' Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program treated Waskon and dozens of other injured troops to a cookout - just a small gesture among Soldiers to commemorate Patriot Day.
In recent days, while convalescing at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Waskon watched newscasts focused on the Sept. 11 attacks. Just 10 years old when terrorists flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, Waskon still remembers his elementary school teacher dropping her coffee cup as news of the events flashed across his classroom television.
"Remembering 9-11 has had a big impact on me," Waskon said. "It's affected me, so much. It hit me right in the heart. That's why we're fighting."
Although Patriot Day was established in 2002, few Soldiers recognized the term. Like many Americans, the term 9-11 was enough to start conversations.
"9-11 always reminds me of when the deployments started," said 1st Lt. Nick Dordon, from the California National Guard's 224th Sustainment Brigade, who went to the Sinai in 2002 and twice to Iraq.
Digging into a bowl of chili, Dordon, 38, of Paso Robles, Calif., could almost forget the pain from an injury he sustained at Talil airbase in southern Iraq. He arrived at LRMC just as volunteers ignited charcoal grills.
Behind the serving line, wearing a red BOSS t-shirt, Pfc. Brian Lamson served barbeque to his comrades - many who were bandaged or in wheelchairs.
"These wounded warriors already gave their time," Lamson said. "We just wanted to show them how we appreciate what they have done."
Some Soldiers grabbed burgers and hot dogs and watched films on the USO's flat screens. Some talked quietly with visiting family. Others shared their stories, about how they were injured and wounded.
On Sept. 6, when most Americans were celebrating Labor Day, Spc. Scott Gossett was on patrol in Afghanistan's Zabul province. Gossett, 26, of Ruidoso, N.M., an infantryman with the Vilseck, Germany-based 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, was part of a convoy resupplying a forward operating base.
That Monday around dawn, Gossett jammed to the Beatles and snacked on Cheezits, awaiting orders to move out. The convoy, made up of Strykers and Afghan National Army pickup trucks, spent the morning rambling over hot, dusty roads and washed out wadis. By mid-morning, they reached an area of previous attacks.
Up ahead, an ANA truck exploded. Gossett's Stryker moved forward for security. Black smoke billowed from the burning ANA truck.
Gossett closed his bag of Cheezits and silently prayed.
"I said, 'Please God, don't let there be a secondary device,'" Gossett said. "But there was."
The Stryker bounced, throwing Gossett forward. Shocked into silence, Gossett saw an injured buddy through a dusty amber glow. Then, he heard the Stryker's alarms, swearing and screaming. His legs were broken.
He spent the entire week on his back, flying first to Kandahar, then to Bagram and onward to Germany. Staff at LRMC found Gossett a wheelchair and mentioned the Warrior Center event. His wife, Jennifer, propped his bandaged legs up with a pillow. Together, they made their way to the USO.
Gossett was glad to be in the sun, he said, although he didn't have much of an appetite. Still, he was glad to be sharing Sept. 11 with fellow Soldiers, he said.
"Terrorism is designed to change the way people act. If we take this day, when a great tragedy occurred, and treat it like a funeral - then the terrorists win," Gossett said. "If we remember it as a time when patriots came together and fought back, then we've already won."
Spc. Rob Dickinson, 23, of Saint Augustine, Fla., president of the U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern's BOSS program, quietly listened to Gossett's story - one he understood all too well. In 2008, while driving a truck in Iraq, his convoy also hit roadside bomb.
"These are our fellow Soldiers, who deployed to protect us all and got injured doing so," Dickinson said. "We're glad to volunteer our time, to offer them a little bit of good food and good company."
Since 1989, BOSS has strived to improve single service members' quality of life. Members take part in social, recreational and educational events, Dickinson said. Community service is also a big part of what BOSS does, he said.
Planning for the event began in mid-August, said Ms. Yanir Hill, acting director if the USAG-K director of human resources. More than a dozen BOSS volunteers, plus Air Force officers and Army civilians from the Kaiserslautern Military Community, took part, she said.
Pfc. Lance Biddle, 22, of Palmetto, Fla., a Soldier from Company A, 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment , always remembers 9-11 as the day after his mom's birthday. Biddle, who recently underwent back surgery, often finds comfort and conversation at Landstuhl's USO, as he did at his home station, in GrafenwAfAPhr, Germany, he said diving into a bowl of chili.
"It's really the only way to relate to the outside world," Biddle said. "It's nice to talk to people who realize what's going on and relax with people who understand you."
For many, the afternoon cookout offered a calm moment to reflect. For Soldiers, may who have deployed into harm's way over the past nine years, it was a chance to examine their feelings about Sept. 11.
Staff Sgt. Phalon Nelson, 31, of Virginia Beach, Va., an NCO from the 1st Battalion, 91st Cavalry Regiment, escorted a wounded Soldier from Afghanistan and stopped in to the USO to show his support. Like others, Nelson thought that turning negative event like the Sept. 11 and making it something positive sends a clear message to those who carried out the attacks.
"By celebrating instead of mourning," Nelson said, pausing to collect his thoughts. "We are saying, 'you can do this to us, but look how we have pulled together.'"