28 June 2015

Sometimes you need a reminder...

Lately, I haven't been feeling it.  "It" being that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from helping others.  I wasn't feeling invigorated.  Every day I used to work in a center in Afghanistan.  I'd greet more than 500 Airmen, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, and Coasties during my shift.  Now, I work at headquarters in a big office building in a suburb of DC.  The passion of my colleagues for our mission is still very much apparent, but the direct connection to our troops is what I've really started to miss.

Then today I went to the Warrior Games.

The Warrior Games were created in 2010 as a sporting competition featuring more than 200 athletes who are wounded service members and veterans from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy/Coast Guard, Air Force, U.S. Special Operations Command, and the British Armed Forces.

"Sitting Volleyball"
I volunteered to help give out snacks and drinks outside the sitting volleyball game.  First, let me say that "sitting" volleyball is a bit of a misnomer.  I watched about 10 minutes of a match, and even though the athletes were positioned on the floor, they slid, and dove, and jumped from their seated positions, constantly.  It was Army vs. Air Force in the gold medal game.  Army fans were doing the wave led by an enthusiastic Sergeant.  Air Force was on the other side of the gym chanting right back.  Service dogs were seated next to their humans, and children were slamming noise makers together.  (We were handing them out; we have no one to blame but ourselves. :))

Me and Adam, former USO Kandahar Volunteer

While watching the game I noticed a familiar face, although I couldn't recall his name I knew he was one of mine.  One of my volunteers from USO Kandahar!  I tapped him on the shoulder and politely asked if he was a volunteer at KAF (Kandahar Air Field) to which he immediately replied, "YEAH!  And you were my volunteer person!"  I re-introduced myself, and he said he'd stop by the snack bar later.  I returned to my post at the snack bar, and felt like something seemed off that he was wearing an Army shirt.  Sure enough, later on when he stopped by I asked him what branch he was in, and he was Navy!  Currently though, he's a civilian working with the Army.  It was great to see someone you know from the other side of the world!

A while later, a young man came up to grab a drink.  I recognized him immediately.  He was the first wounded warrior I ever met at KAF.  He had wandered into our center and wanted to play Playstation.  I had told him I needed his CAC (Common Access Card, aka military ID).  He said he didn't have one to which I replied that he had to have one to use the station. He replied, well they took mine for evidence when I got blown up.  


Okay.  Ummm here's a playstation, you have no time limit, just go for it.  I felt like a fool.  Here I am giving him a hard time, when he literally had just survived a bomb the day before.  Talk about a humbling experience.  After talking to him some more he told me he had a concussion and possible TBI (traumatic brain injury) from an IED.  He came by the center often while he was "stuck" on KAF awaiting to be given the okay to head back out to his FOB (forward operating base).  

We had quite a few wounded warriors come through USO Kandahar while I was there.  They would get medevac'd (medical evacuation, often by pararescue jumpers on a Blackhawk helicopter) to KAF because we had the best medical facilities in country besides Bagram.  Then they'd stay until they were well enough to go back to battle, or sent to Landstuhl in Germany for more medical attention.  During the waiting period all they talked about was getting back out there, missing their guys, and how bored they were.  Some of the bravest men I've ever met still had shrapnel in their sides, yet were volunteering at the USO because they were itching to get back to helping their fellow soldiers.

Anyway, so back to today.  I recognized this soldier.  I said, "Excuse me, where you in Kandahar?"  He said yeah, then looked up, pointed at me and exclaimed,"2010, USO!"  I told him I remembered him.  With a big ol' grin he grabbed his Gatorade and walked off on his prosthetic.  

With some water in my eyes, I felt grateful.  I was grateful that I had the opportunity to boost his spirits after his first injury.  I sincerely hoped someone else was there after that one.

With a USO center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and one at Bethesda where Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is located,  I have a hope, a feeling, an almost assurance, that someone was.

That was the reminder I needed.  Although I may not be the someone handing out the Playstation controller this time, I can be the someone in an office building who supports the someones who do.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure about you Kemp, but sometimes, if feels like a lifetime ago. When we were there, wow, talk about feeling alive. You always make a difference. NEVER FORGET IT! Tharp :)