01 November, 2005

Just Read This

Come, take a walk with me, a stroll of the imagination...

Imagine you’re a American soldier. You signed up and went through the best and most rigorous training any nation has ever devised for its warfighters. You discovered depths of grit and mind-over-matter that you didn’t know you had. You learned that with guts, determination, good equipment and a few similarly-minded buddies, you could do almost anything. You learned to defend yourself against a wide variety of weapons and situations, to fight back, to respond to and take control of your environment when necessary. You learned to hold your head high and take pride in your skills, training, accomplishments, and sheer grit. You knew what you were capable of and were proud of your role in something bigger than yourself, proud to have made the grade among the finest fighting forces our world has ever known.

And then your country sent you off to war. You got to use all that training and skills you worked so hard to master. It’s part of what you'd dreamed of doing when you enlisted. You helped stop the bad guys and protect the good and the fragile. You felt powerful, and when you weren’t scared out of your mind, you suspected you might possibly be invincible. In-theatre you saw the best and worst of yourself and of the rest of humanity. You learned what it meant to be connected to people in ways your blood relations will never quite understand. Together you did what had to be done, gloried in your triumphs, cried on each others’ shoulders in the darkest of times and laughed like maniacs at the stupid stuff PVT Schmoe did.

And then one awful day something went wrong in a very personal way. Booooommmm! You’ve just experienced the most common battlefield injury in Iraq: wounds from an explosive device of some type. You finally come to your senses for real in a stateside hospital and realize you’re banged up pretty bad. You’re thrilled to see you still have all your limbs (we’ll settle for a better-case scenario). The doc says you will likely eventually regain at least partial use of your thoroughly-bandaged hands, and you feel lucky.

Meanwhile your buddies are still back over there. You know they’ll manage without you, but you worry something awful. You feel like you let them down by getting hurt. You’re supposed to be there with them, covering their six, not lying in this damn hospital bed thousands of miles away. You wonder how J has been doing, whether B is coping with what he saw that week before you got hurt. How about the guys who were wounded with you? Are they okay? What’s happening?

But everyone tells you that you gotta worry about yourself now, focus on recovery. Okay. You look to the future. Recovery is going to take a long time: broken bones must heal, skin be reattached or re-grown, nerves carefully grown and stitched together in hopes of regaining some feeling in your fingers. In the meantime you are helpless. No more being the Big Bad on the block. No more impacting your environment. No more taking care of those weaker than yourself.

The world’s upside down, now. You want a sip of water? Can’t grab the cup. You’re hungry? Someone’s gonna have to feed you like you fed your toddler back before you deployed. What about the bathroom? What about a bath? How are you going to scrub yourself? You feel like an idiot. You want to escape this reality, so you decide to watch TV... gotta get someone to work the remote. Well, you’ve got all this free time, why not read a book? Turning pages should be just be a ton of fun...

That kind of helpless feeling is tough for anybody with an ounce of self-respect and independence. It’s doubly hard when your life has so recently been all about skill, accomplishment, contributing to the team, taking care of others. Because severe injuries do more than damage the body; they tax the spirit. Someone who’s been there calls it "humbling" and "humiliating."

But just about the time the enormity of it begins to sink in, a stranger walks in carrying a black bag. You suspect it’s a computer bag, and they tell you it’s for you. You gingerly lift your bandaged hands and laugh wryly. But this is no ordinary laptop. It turns your spoken words into text--no hands required. You can sort through your swirling thoughts and questions on "paper," email your family, check up on your buddies, download your favorite tunes or a book you've always wanted to read, research the latest developments in treatment for your injuries, write that sexy note to your girlfriend who couldn’t come to your bedside, and a million other things... Suddenly you have access to the rest of the world.

Now you have a little control, a piece of the world that is in your power. In this corner of your life you are independent and self-sufficient. What a wonderful feeling! Yes, there’s a long road ahead, but here in front of you is a reminder that there is more to your life than doctors and nurses poking and prodding, more than pills and pain and these four walls.

But dear readers, this was only your imagination; you're still sitting in front of your computer, whole in body and spirit. Many of our soldiers who volunteered to serve us are living with these burdens every single day. And we owe them. Bigtime.

What better way to help a person than to give him back a bit of independence and control in his life? Captain Ziegenfuss says it best, "I know how much better I felt, how amazingly more functional I felt...I can’t wait to do the same, to give that feeling to another soldier..."

But we can't do that for another soldier. Valour-IT is out of money. The coffers are empty.

What then do we tell that soldier lying in bed trying to come to grips with the tremendous psychological and physical challenges he faces? Do we tell him, "Sorry, we just don’t have the money? We’ll try to raise some more money in the spring, when people don’t have donor fatigue? In the meantime, just lay there for a few more months, feeling like you have no control over your life, dependent in every single way and cut off from most everyone except people who walk into your hospital room or are willing to hold a phone to your ear so you can communicate with those you care about?"

I don’t know about you, but that thought nearly breaks my heart. As I sit typing this, there are wounded soldiers who could benefit so much from a Valour-IT laptop. But we can’t do anything about that until we get some more donations.

As I’ve asked before, how can you not do everything in your power to help a soldier who finds himself in such trying times? How can you let it pass from your mind? Can you turn your face away from the opportunity to give what you can to those who have given so much for you?

$5, $10, $50, $100... it all adds up. But your donations are only the first step. Get out the word. Post flyers, give presentations (email me for the files), tell your coworkers about how we can help those who now suffer because of what they have done on our behalf.

They gave what they could. We must do the same.