FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Army News Service, May 25, 2007) - The Army's top officer encouraged wounded warriors to continue the "marathon" to recovery May 22 during visits to Brooke Army Medical Center and the Center for the Intrepid, the Army's state-of-the-art physical rehabilitation center here.
"Taking care of wounded warriors is the most important thing we can do," Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said to post leaders and hospital staff prior to a tour of the burn center.
The visit to BAMC was the first for the new chief of staff, who had last visited Fort Sam Houston in the 90s when the hospital was still under construction. Gen. Casey said he's heard "nothing but wonderful things" about the medical center.
Known for its cutting-edge care, BAMC boasts the only Level I trauma center in the Army and the only burn center in the Defense Department, and is one of only five hospitals in the nation with a dual accreditation in both areas.
The general's first stop, by personal request, was to the burn center. He was eager to visit 1st Lt. James Barclay, son of Gen. Casey's friend, Brig. Gen. James Barclay. The lieutenant was injured in Afghanistan last year when the vehicle he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device. Gen. Casey warmly greeted 1st Lt. Barclay and his mother, Deborah.
"Thanks for coming by and seeing these guys; it means a lot to them," Deborah said to the general.
When Gen. Casey asked 1st Lt. Barclay about his progress, the lieutenant projected another nine months of "painful" recovery.
"Then it's back to the grindstone'" Gen. Casey asked.
"Depends on the outcome," 1st Lt. Barclay replied, referring to his long-term rehabilitation.
Gen. Casey asked how his wife, Sierra, felt about her husband's desire to return to duty. She said she was supportive of "whatever makes him happy ... as long as he doesn't get deployed again," she added with a smile.
Although BAMC leaders briefed Gen. Casey on the hospital's cutting-edge care and support of Family Members, the general seemed partial to personal testimony. As Gen. Casey chatted with patients and their Families, he asked them for their opinion of the care.
"They're doing a great job taking care of us," Cindy Sippel told the chief of staff as she sat by her son's bedside. Her son, Spc. Nicholas Bratland, was injured in Afghanistan in August. "It's pretty good if you can please a mom and a nurse at the same time."
"Tough road'" Gen. Casey asked Spc. Bratland. "It's getting better," he said. "They do a good job here."
Ms. Sippel said her son was a "tough kid." "We used to find it challenging to deal with his stubbornness when he was little, but we are grateful for it now."
In the burn rehabilitation center, patients described the recovery process for Gen. Casey, which involves the constant flexing of body parts, such as fingers, to avoid rapid contraction of scar tissue. The general likened burn patients' recovery, which can take up to five years of painful rehabilitation, to a "marathon."
Acting BAMC Commander Col. Carlos Angueira told Casey about one "marathon" recovery with a miraculous outcome. Marine Sgt. Merlin German sustained burns on 97 percent of his body when he was injured in Iraq by an improvised explosive device Feb. 23, 2005. He would not have survived 10 years ago; however, modern technology and medical advances have given servicemembers with severe burns like Sgt. German's a fighting chance, Col. Angueira said.
"Merlin was able to dance with his mother at BAMC's Christmas Ball," Col. Angueira said. "There wasn't a dry eye in the house."
Gen. Casey then toured BAMC's neighbor, the Center for the Intrepid, a $50 million rehabilitation center funded by donations from 600,000 Americans. The center caters to amputees and burn patients injured in the war on terrorism. Wounded warriors demonstrated the center's capabilities, including a wave pool called the Flowrider, a variety of exercise equipment and an indoor firearms training facility.
In the gait lab, Gen. Casey took particular note of the rock path, used to accustom amputees to uneven walking surfaces. "I know how tough it is to walk on rocks when injured," said the general, who is recovering from foot surgery.
Gen. Casey took time throughout the tour to talk to wounded warriors and their Families, thanking them for their service and sacrifice.
As he left the facility, Gen. Casey momentarily turned his attention from the wounded warriors to the hospital and CFI staffs. "Thank you for what you do. You have remarkable facilities," he said.
"He was extremely impressed by the facilities, but I think he was even more impressed with the Soldiers and their attitude and spirit," said Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, commander, Fort Sam Houston and Army Medical Department Center and School.
Col. Angueira said he believes Gen. Casey was "really marveled" at the facilities and "got a sense of the total commitment on the part of the hospital and staff who live and breathe the hospital mission, 'We are dedicated to warrior service.'
"Rather than just a briefing room, he got the testimony from the patients and Families," the colonel added. "He was able to see firsthand the staff's dedication and the great level of care they deliver to our wounded warriors."
Gen. Casey's next stops were U.S. Army North and U.S. Army South, both headquartered at Fort Sam Houston. He said his evening plans were to attend a San Antonio Spurs playoff game since he had scored "nosebleed" seats earlier in the day.
(Elaine Wilson writes for the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)