14 December, 2006

A Name from the Past (updated)

He was the first one to write to me from Iraq...

I had started writing to deployed personnel in the summer of 2004, using Anysoldier.com. It was back when they were still a small operation and I daily scrolled through the new/updated profiles, even those I hadn't written to. In September, one particularly caught my eye because "Corporal X" said that he was signing up his unit since they'd just suffered their first casualty: "I thought this would be a way to bring their spirits up a bit."

I was between classes, but I stopped right there and wrote CPL X a brief note, telling him that I was grateful for the service of his unit, that I knew the pain of losing someone, and that the service and sacrifice of his brother would be always be appreciated and remembered.

When CPL X wrote back, he was newly-minted SGT X.

He sent a handwritten letter straight from Iraq, and it bowled me over to hold in my hands something that had traveled so far, that was connected to those who were serving in such hardship on behalf of all of us. It's one thing to send hearfelt wishes to anonymous soldiers, but quite another to have someone write to you from the middle of a war. Suddenly there are shared names and now "real" people were reaching out to touch me. Silly me, I remember sniffing the envelope, wondering if it would smell different since it came all the way from Iraq.

His profile had been updated and it had a picture of him, complete with a great smile.

SGT X invited me to email him, and I did. I also sent him more letters and several packages full of snacks and field-specific hygiene items for his unit, since it seemed they were often "outside the wire." Surprisingly, I didn't hear from him again for six weeks. I was starting to worry, and began to daily check the lists of those killed in action.

Finally, just after Thanksgiving, I received an email [edited here for privacy]:

Thank you for all you have done for me and my men! I am no longer in [Iraq] but most of my men are. [About three weeks ago] our convoy was hit by a suicide car bomber and [many] of us got burned or injured in some form or another. We are all alive and healing so breathe easy knowing no one was killed... (thank God).

I was both relieved and horrified. In subsequent emails with Marty Horn at Anysoldier, I learned that he was at Brooke Army Medical Center. I worried he was seriously wounded, though he had played down his injuries and there was no indication he'd dictated the email he sent. I knew nothing about how wounded warriors were cared for and I felt so helpless... wondering whether there were people supporting him, wondering if he had what he needed, wondering what his prospects for recovery were, but afraid to bother him for any answers to my questions.

I didn't know how to help him, but in the next three or four months I sent him two emails (non-mil address), letting him know him he wasn't forgotten. He never replied. I began to think that perhaps his wounds were as non-descript as he'd implied and that he was already recovered and out and about, too busy to care about me. I didn't know then that his descriptions of dizziness and balance problems were the classic signs of TBI, or that the fact he was at Brooke implied serious burns...

Today SGT X crossed my path again. Two years ago when he was wounded I didn't know about Soldiers' Angels, I didn't know a thing about combat casualties, and even though SGT X had wounded hands it hadn't yet occurred to me that he wouldn't have adaptive computer technology at his disposal. But today I knew what it meant when I read the details of a request for a Valour-IT laptop:


I knew the name the moment I saw it. Two years on, and he's still recovering. And in those last two years I've been busy. And now maybe I know how to help him. I only wish we'd started sooner.

Small world, huh?

Update: Before posting this last night, I wrote to my Valour-IT colleagues and told them I know SGT X and he's a great guy. Based on that (and his injuries), he was instantly approved. He happened to be at Brooke for a therapy apointment this very morning (12/15/06) and was able to meet Valour-IT's representative and pick up the laptop 15 minutes after he was called. Twelve hours from request to receipt (no, that's not normal). Pretty cool, huh?