By Sgt. John L. Carkeet IV, 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)July 9, 2014
TALLINN, Estonia (July 9, 2014) -- British, American and Estonian service members, political dignitaries and community leaders joined nurses, doctors and technicians at the grand opening of the Amputee Care Center at Magdaleena Hospital here, July 2.
Among the guests were four paratroopers from Troop B, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, who are based in Grafenwoehr, Germany, but in Estonia for training. Approximately 600 paratroopers from the brigade are in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve to demonstrate its commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.
"It feels good to be here and represent the 173rd," said Spc. Justin Barnett, a team leader in Troop B. "This facility shows that the people of Estonia and their allies have not forgotten their wounded warriors."
The men received a gracious welcome from their hosts and paid their respects to the Estonian soldiers who have lost limbs in the line of duty.
"We are all brothers in arms," said Barnett. "Having the privilege to wear the uniform and come here shows that, not only do I care for our country, but also their country as well."
Barnett could empathize with the center's current residents. He received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in combat from his 2012 tour, in Afghanistan.
"There's a saying, 'live and die by faith,'" said the native of Gulfport, Mississippi. "Faith helped me get through the healing process. The patients here need to keep faith and not get down on themselves -- no matter what happens. Just stay strong and they'll get through it."
The ceremony opened with speeches by several leaders, including Jeffrey D. Levine, the U.S. ambassador to Estonia, Taavi Rõivas, the prime minister of Estonia, and Sven Mikser, Estonian Minister of Defense.
"Just like any democracy, we have a certain obligation for the people who have served our country," said Mikser. "We also hold a special debt of honor for those who sacrificed their health for the lives of others. That's why it's our policy to provide the best possible medical assistance and rehabilitation to [Estonia's] service members."
Mikser also expressed his gratitude to Estonia's NATO partners that contributed their time, resources and expertise toward the center's six-year development.
"For years, thousands of Estonian troops have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and some of them have required major medical care," said Mikser. "Up until now, our service members who needed post-amputation care or prosthetic devices would seek assistance from the United Kingdom. Thanks to the advice and finances from the United States, we can now provide that same care at home."
The ceremonial planting of an oak tree by three dignitaries symbolized new life for those providing and receiving treatment at the new facility. The hospital staff led its guests on tours of the state-of-the-art center that boasts the latest generation of rehabilitation equipment such as the Anti-Gravity Treadmill and the Gait Real-Time Analysis Interactive Lab. The GRAIL integrates customizable treadmill, motion capture and virtual reality technology to accelerate the rehabilitation process by having patients walk along simulated streets, sidewalks, nature paths, shopping centers and other realistic environments.
"The physical therapy room was also really cool," said Barnett. "It was motivating to see people with the drive to literally bring themselves back on their feet."
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the Army Contingency Response Force in Europe and is capable of projecting forces to conduct the full of range of military operations across the United States European, Central and Africa Commands areas of responsibility.
"The military partnership between Estonia and America has been well received by the Estonian public," said Mikser. "Having American troops train on Estonian soil adds practical value to our solidarity."