Wounded Warriors Experience Heidelberg
September 12, 2007
HEIDELBERG, Germany - While the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's doctors and nurses can treat a warrior's physical injuries. Sometimes a wounded service member needs a little spiritual and emotional care.
Recently, a former Marine Corps chief warrant officer, a hospital chaplain and the Rhein-Neckar Silver Chapter, United States Army Warrant Officer Association, helped raise the morale of 36 wounded warriors during a day's excursion away from the outpatient barracks.
Their schedule included a barbeque lunch of hotdogs, bratwAfA1/4rst, homemade salads, pies and cakes, an exclusive guided tour through the Heidelberg Castle and a mid-Neckar River view of the "castle burning" and fireworks display.
Most importantly, the day was about stepping back and taking some time to relax, said Spec. Becky Saulnier, a .50-caliber machine gunner with the 502nd Engineer Company.
"I'm enjoying it," she said during the castle tour. "It gets us out of the barracks and out doing stuff. You get down just sitting around."
"It's amazing. It's more than I've ever dreamed. Heidelberg Castle was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," said Spec. Jeff Jader, a Kansas Army National Guard cavalry scout. "The Warrant Officers Association is doing a wonderful job. It raises our spirits for us wounded Soldiers. We were down in the pits already because we are injured. This is a relief."
"I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Henry O. Richardson Jr., the association's president, as he greeted the 36 warriors.
Black and some friends brought health and comfort items, clothes, and newspapers to the first wave of wounded Marines arriving at the hospital during the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom. At the same time, Marine reserve Col. John D. Folsom began a program to distribute personal hygiene supplies, clothing and gift donations received from the United States.
"I found a different way to help out once the health and comfort pipeline began to work on its own. It got bigger than all of us," Black said.
A friend of Black's donated $500 and suggested that he take the warriors out to dinner.
He obtained a van, driver and took 10 warriors out to tour of a nearby castle and Bad DAfA1/4rkheim.
"That turned out to be such a delight and I saw such a difference between the time I picked them up and when I dropped them off," he said. "They were much happier and relaxed. They had decompressed and that was the most important for me."
As the donations poured in, Black continued to take 12 to 14 warriors out on cruises on the Rhein River. After exploring RAfA1/4desheim, they traveled to Black's home village of Kiedrich for a wine tasting and a dinner prepared by a master chef.
In November 2005, Landstuhl's chaplains offered financial assistance for the trips, which cost about $1,200 each. With the additional funds, Black was able to increase the number of outpatients from 14 to 20, added breakfasts and on-board dinners and hired a bus. A chaplain joined the now monthly outings.
Black said he and the chaplains sponsor 12 trips a year, mostly to the Rheingau region, and team up with the warrant officers twice a year for the Heidelberg tour.
Since Nov. 2003, the groups have sponsored trips for 995 wounded warriors, he said.
"I was in combat myself. I know the stress that you can be under and I know that sometime all it takes is for somebody to take you out and get your mind off your troubles," he said. "As a retired Marine officer, I cannot lead these people in combat but I can help pick up the pieces."
"We call these spiritual fitness retreats because we believe it has a lot to with restoring the spirit and the soul of those who have been in combat," said Navy Chaplain (Capt.) Paul Burmeister, of Landstuhl's Clinical Pastoral Division.
"It really does help them decompress," he said. "At the end of the day, they are more relaxed, they are laughing. They are so grateful that they are able to do something fun, to get their minds off of the war, the ugliness of combat and all the stuff they have to do downrange."
The tours are part of the chaplains' overall spiritual health and counseling program that also includes shorter trips in the Kaiserslautern area, bowling, combat stress classes, movie nights, Sunday brunch, Bible studies and counseling.
The trips and other events help the warriors deal with the effects of war, he said.
"Some of these young men and women are coming in from downrange torn up inside. They have seen horrific things - almost beyond what words can describe," Burmeister said. "The reward is seeing thawing of the tension and the angst."
With 200 warriors in the outpatient company, the weekend trips make "a small dent" in the population. "I wish we could take every single one of them out, but that does not work."