22 March, 2006

Visiting the Wounded

Update: After much confusion on my part I was able to speak to him on the phone today. As I suspected, he's quite young: an 18-year-old newly-minted PFC. He's mobile and so I will be taking him to lunch on Friday. His accent proclaims his Southern roots, and he seems quite talkative. I think we will enjoy ourselves.

Today I will be approaching a wounded warfighter for the first time without a laptop in my hands and without someone with more "authority" (like the guys from MOPH) that I can lend me credibility. Visiting the wounded at all is a rare occasion for me, as I am usually tucked away at home, three hours' drive from any military hospital.

The only thing I know about the person I will be visiting is that he's a Marine and he's a Private. The hospital/injury issues don't faze me, but what scares me is that it seems so presumptuous to offer myself as company to someone who doesn't know me at all and with whom I have no shared experience in what is the current focus of his life.

Doing something like this hits at all the most insecure parts of me as a little voice in my head shrieks that he'd have no reason to welcome my attention under any circumstances. Or maybe it will look like I'm some starry-eyed idiot who thinks I'm going to comfort the "poor, pitiful wounded hero." As to the former, it would be no different than what has been my everyday life. The latter is completely untrue, but as someone with no direct military connections, I am a prime suspect for it. And while it would hurt to have someone think I'm that clueless or arrogant, I would feel even worse to upset someone who misinterpeted my attention to him like that.

When Patti Bader first put me in touch with some of the regional Soldiers' Angels leaders to help facilitate Valour-IT, I soon discovered that I was treated with a certain amount of initial trepidation. I've found this repeated in encounters with military personnel and families. The regional leaders grilled me for signs of the "Florence Nightengale" type of volunteer who with dewy eyes envisions spending her time sitting and holding a wounded soldier's hand, or the "military groupie" who is literally looking for a boyfriend or husband among the wounded. I'm not entirely sure I reassured them, but they stopped worrying since I was working with them long-distance.

Oh, this is all probably terribly-unattractive navel-gazing. I just want to be useful and helpful, not a problem or a distraction or irritant. Holly has been giving me advice... So, I shall boldy step out with my bag (DVDs/Videos of Monsters, Inc and Pirates of the Carribean, Hostess cupcakes, and selected books: jokes, short stories, and a Grisham novel), ready to talk about whatever he wants and trying to read his cues to see what he is expecting from me. We'll see how it goes...