By Ms. Rachael Tolliver (TRADOC) Cadet Command August 13, 2013
Cadet Command, Fort Knox, KY--A hospital tour for a group of Army ROTC Cadets, most of whom were nursing majors planning on entering the Army as nurses, ended in a lesson about dignity and respect.
As more than 20 cadets and their cadre were led onto the wounded heroes ward at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Military Medical Center, the first thing the cadets said they noticed was that most of the soldiers were sitting in chairs in the hallway.
At first glance, Cadet Erin Pace, who attends James Madison University and is a nursing major, was concerned to see 50 or so injured people sitting in a hallway, so she asked about it.
"I went to the nurse to ask, 'do you not have enough room for all these soldiers,'" she explained. "And the nurse said, 'Yes, but they all wanted to see you all so they all came out and are sitting in the hallway.'"
The cadets and cadre traveled to the Philippines as part of an ROTC Cultural Understanding Language Proficiency mission to help the Guam National Guard with an Emergency Responder Course it was teaching to the Filipino Armed Forces as part of the State Partnership Program in which the two are partnered.
As part of the CULP mission, the cadets practice their leadership skills, and learn about the culture, language, people and customs so when they commission they will be more well-rounded and able to better adapt to other cultures.
The tour of the hospitals was part of their education and emersion. The wounded hero ward, similar to a wounded warrior ward in the U.S., is made up largely of Philippine military personnel who are fighting in the southern Philippines against terrorist cells who use the area as a training point to expand into the other areas of Asia.
Cadet Eileen Flores, who attends the University of San Francisco as a nursing major, also wondered if there were enough beds to go around because, "they were all in the hallway."
"But (we were told) it was because they wanted to meet us," she added. "And they were all taking photos. I was talking to one soldier with the little Tagalog (Philippine dialect we learned) and I asked him what happened and he said, 'oh, here is the entry wound, and here is the exit wound, and this is what happened, and we were fighting the guerillas…' (guerilla warfare in the southern part of the Philippines.) He explained that he was from four hours away which is why he had no family there."
Later the cadets learned that the rank on their uniform meant little to the soldiers, but the fact that they were wearing U.S. uniforms meant everything. Capt. Elizabeth Ruiz, lead cadre for the mission and the ROTC nurse counselor for 5th Brigade, said that her group was told it was important to the wounded heroes that they had visitors.
"They didn't notice, or seem to care, that these are not active Soldiers but ROTC cadets," she said. "We were in U.S. uniform and that is the thing that the Filipino soldiers saw and cared about.
"The reason, they explained, was because they have worked and trained balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) with U.S. forces and they know we are helping them in areas in the south. However, they didn't expect that we would also visit their wounded at a hospital. More important, at least to the cadets, is that when these men get there they rarely get to see their families. Some of them have been here for two years and felt like they were forgotten--not necessarily by their families, but by everyone else. So a visit from what they saw as their U.S. counterparts made for quite the day for them."
And as for the lack of visitors?
"Because their families all live so far away, it is very expensive for them to come and visit, even if it is just one person…it's hard for them to get here," Flores said. "They are from(outlaying) providences mostly, only some are from this area."
As the cadets toured the ward several differences stuck out, especially to those cadets who had already completed their Nurse Summer Training Program. For cadets like Lauren Graham, who attends Grand Canyon University, it was those differences that got her to thinking.
"We were able to talk to the patients and hear their stories a little bit, speaking in Tagalog as much as we could," Graham recounted. "It was heart-breaking to see that they didn't have much for all that they had done for their country."
"I went to Bethesda Walter Reed Military Medical Center for my NSTP, and it was the greatest experience of my life, she added. "And those patients were so inspiring to me and it was neat to see how everybody came together to support them."
Graham described the visitors, to include famous people and politicians, that frequented the ward where she served her NSTP. She noticed the people walking the hallways giving out donated items such as quilts, robes, phone cards, and she talked about the personal effects that each soldier had in his or her room--posters, photos and cards.
"It was like a big family and there is a large community of support for them (at Bethesda Walter Reed). But I (didn't see that) in the Philippine hospital even though the soldiers had gone through the same thing and had similar injuries.
She said learned during her NSTP, and she believes, that the environment an injured person is in when they are in the hospital really effects how they heal and, "if they don't have any support or have anything to look forward to every day, it is really hard to heal. One patient said he had a been there two years and had two months to go."
"I realize the Filipino soldiers are no different from our soldiers," Graham continued. "They are fighting for the same things that our soldiers are fighting for and deserve the same support and respect that our soldiers get."
At that moment an idea was born and was nurtured by more than 20 cadets to full development.
The idea was to make small care packages for the soldiers--something the cadets hoped would brighten their day.
The hospital staff gave them 51 names of soldiers on the ward--the Philippines does not have the same HIPA type standards the U.S. does--and the cadets made 60 care packages just in case there were extra soldiers to enter the ward before they could get back.
The cadets were not scheduled to return to the hospital and in fact were helping the Guam National Guard with combat life saver lane-training on the day they would return to the ward. So only four cadets returned with the well wishes from the entire group and the care packages they had all made.
For their part, the cadre approved of the extra "mission" and told the cadets if they would follow-through, the cadre would make arrangements for them to return the hospital, pending hospital approval.
"I am very proud of my team. It is rewarding as a nurse corps officer to see our nurse cadets thinking as nurses and taking an interest in improving quality of life and patient care," Ruiz said. "But beyond that, it is promising to see our future leaders act like leaders--regardless of their major. They took initiative, they walked outside of their comfort zone, and they tried to make a difference in the lives of soldiers-not even U.S. Soldiers, but those of our allies. These cadets took the time in between their assignments and spent their down-time on a project of their own creation. They even dipped into their own pockets to create personalized care packages for our allied soldiers which is highly commendable."
Maj. Janice Batisla-ong, who helped arrange the visit for the cadets to the ward and is the deputy chief nurse, said that it was good to have the cadets' visit because it was a special event for the wounded soldiers. She said the staff and soldiers could see that the cadets were "a sensitive group."
"On this ward, they are not visited much….it is very important that someone visit them," she explained. "Healthy for mental (healing) and important so other cultures, other militaries, they can see we all share the same plight."
The cadets used their own money, and money donated from the cadre, to purchase "comfort food" for the Filipino wounded heroes. The cadets learned while shopping for the items that "comfort food" means different things in different places, and while chocolate is a treat and much sought after, it is also very expensive on the island.
Each care package included a can of sardines, noodles, crackers, candy, coffee and sugar and a basic shaving kit. They also bought games and bibles--the Philippines is strongly Roman Catholic--and puzzles, decks of playing cards and activity books.
"We didn't have enough for every soldier but we had enough to give to the hospital unit so the soldiers can use them when they want to," Graham said.
And the cadets made 51 personalized cards--with the name of each soldier and a personalized message based off the conversations they had the week before. Then, the four cadets and cadre personally delivered each card and each bag, showed the soldiers the "game box," and spent the next four hours visiting.
The reply from the wounded warriors was summed up in a message by Staff. Sgt. Joel M Ocampo, of the Philippine Army who was elected to speak on behalf of all, just before the cadets departed.
Through a translator, Ocampo said that the care packages and gifts were very nice, and appreciated, but what means more is the fact the cadets thought of them at all because some of them had been there for so long they felt totally forgotten.
Several of the cadets' plan on approaching their battalions to see if they could sponsor a regular Philippine care-package project for the wounded soldiers ward.
"This experience has taught me a lot about the respect and dignity that goes with being a nurse to our wounded warriors," Pace said. "As future Army leaders and nurses I think it was important for us to see what the similarities are between the wounded warriors in each country because while we all do things differently, and we have different cultures, at the core of it all are wounded soldiers. And they all deserve quality care, respect and dignity.
"I hope that we did a good job, even though we are cadets, providing that respect and dignity because to each of us it was very important. "