By Mr. Roger Teel (RDECOM)December 9, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Photography is prohibited inside Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and it is just as well. The images visitors take away are indelibly etched in memory, and will last a lifetime.
Thirty-eight associates of the Chesapeake Science & Security Corridor, a consortium of local and federal government, education officials and members of the private sector, said they were honored -- and humbled -- to have the opportunity to visit wounded American Warfighters Dec. 8.
The group departed Aberdeen, Md. before dawn. After a warm welcome by Karen Holt and other members of the Aberdeen Proving Ground-CSSC BRAC Office, Harford County Executive David Craig recalled his first visit to Walter Reed.
"When I applied to go to the military academy, the first thing they did was send you to Walter Reed so you could see what Soldiers looked like after they had been in war. The very first person I met only had half a body -- no body below the waist. You really have to appreciate what these people have done," Craig said to the group.
APG Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Rhoades then asked who in the group had previously visited wounded warriors. Only a few raised their hands.
"They are very proud men and women," he said of the Warfighters. "Your emotions and your demeanor, your body language will say a lot to them. So I ask you to prepare yourself for what you may have never before seen in your life, and try to control your body language and your emotions as best you can."
"They need your strength, not your pity," Rhoades stressed, bolstering the group for their visit. "They don't need you feeling sorry for them. They need your strength."
Rhoades said Team APG, including Senior Installation Commander Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, Garrison Commander Col. Orlando Ortiz, and Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin, the installation and U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command senior enlisted advisor, were supportive of the trip.
Joe Ricci, representing the Susquehanna Workforce Network, was proud to have contributed to the trip.
"The CSSC received donations of more than $3,300 from area businesses and organizations in support of this visit, and I'm honored to be here," he said.
Carol Baker from the Harford County Veterans Commission, representing the Vietnam Veterans of America, was excited about her first visit to Walter Reed.
"Extremely excited," she said. "I just want to say thank you for your service, and welcome home. They deserve our complete support. They don't always get that."
A Vietnam-era veteran herself as a member of the Women's Army Corps, Baker is secretary-treasurer for the Harford County chapter of Vietnam vets, past president of the chapter, and a state delegate for their cause.
"I'm also sergeant-at-arms for the Department of Maryland American Legion," she added. "The motto for the Vietnam Veterans of America is, 'Never will one generation of Americans abandon another' because they didn't get a welcome home. That's why I'm here," she said.
"Obviously you feel humbled to be around these young kids," said Jim Costigan, a retired Army officer now with General Dynamics. "More importantly, you feel humble and proud to be around the parents, the moms and dads who are here. They're here for the long haul. A lot of them don't have anything to do with what we do in the profession, so it's hard for them to feel a part of it. Just reaching out to them and letting them know that there's a community backing their son or daughter meant a lot to a couple we saw."
"The young Soldiers and the Airman we saw seemed to be in great spirits, but the moms and dads and brothers and sisters out in the hallway - you can just see them being drained," he added.
Denise Carnaggio from the Harford County Department of Economic Development said she saw a connection between the wounded and research taking place at APG.
"I went to the therapy sessions and learned a lot about the Soldiers and the strength and the sacrifice they're making. I saw a real connection with some of the research that's going on at the Proving Ground that's supporting the rehab treatment of these young Soldiers."
Holt said the cost of the trip was offset by donations.
"We had approximately 25 different organizations, government agencies, and private industries - from Baltimore to Cecil County -- participate today. The donations went into the gift cards and gift packages delivered to the Warfighters.
"We felt passionate about doing this in lieu of an award ceremony that we typically have among those service groups to talk about what we achieved with BRAC implementation. This was an opportunity to put into perspective why we're supporting APG. It put a face on that message.
"County Executive Craig indicates all the time that the real focus is the warfighter, and this [was] an opportunity to see firsthand."
"Despite their injuries they were so optimistic," said Luwanna Spells, CSSC administrative assistant. "The little stuff we complain about is nothing compared to what they have to endure."