Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Memories of Landstuhl

The few days we spent in Landstuhl at the beginning of December visiting wounded U.S. soldiers deeply touched me. You would have thought Sherry, Deb, and I had known one another forever. They are both such magnificent women, who radiate love with each person they meet. Sherry was so very gracious in allowing us to not only stay in her home, but in driving out of her way to give us more time with the troops.

With each conversation we had, I was reminded of the significance of simply "showing up". These words have tremendous meaning for me as I experienced them for the first time when I volunteered with the Red Cross at the Respitz Center at Ground Zero for 18 days after 9/11. There was a fire chief who shared a story with me about a camping trip he had that summer with 28 fellow firemen and their children. I remember him telling me how he could visualize them sitting around the campfire sharing stories, and how very much it hurt knowing those children would now have one less parent at future campfires. As tears streamed down both of our faces, he looked at me and said "Thank you for showing up, you don't know how much it has helped me to share this with you."

Never before did I realize that I could make a difference just by "showing up".

As I retold my experiences to some of the troops I was playing cards with, they were astounded that 9/11 was what ultimately brought me to them. One soldier in particular asked me the following day "Why are you here"? I told him that I was there to encourage the wounded and tell each one how much I appreciated the sacrifices they have made every single day to serve our country and to make the world a better place. He then said to me "You know, a lot of celebrities come here for photo ops, and leave without spending any quality time with us. Having you, an ordinary person, come here and just spend time playing cards and talking to us, means more than some of those celebrity visits ever will." Again, "showing up" was all it took.

Of course, not all celebrities are simply into photo ops. I just had Christian Slater on one of my flights (the day after Christmas). He had on a USO cap, and we discussed what it was like for him on the USO tour. He said he was incredibly moved by the tenacity of the wounded and how much he enjoyed spending quality time talking with the troops. Along with Gary Sinise, I believe these two celebrities really take the time to make our military feel valued and respected. Christian told me about his visits to Walter Reed Medical Center and some of his stories from there. They were deeply moving and I was thankful to be able to share the needs we experienced from our Airline Ambassadors mission.

We just never know the importance of one small act and how it can affect others, all the way around the world, even at times in the distant future. We learned that when wounded soldiers arrive, they only have the clothing on their backs. There is a tremendous need for solid black zip up sweatshirts (with no logo) and sweat pants, and black duffel bags that can be put on the wheelchairs. In addition, they need athletic shoes (one pair is often sadly used for two individuals).

One thing the wounded told me they would like are cards and board games to break the boredom. They also asked if we could please come back to the center to share our love and gratitude with wounded troops who come in after them.

One of my projects before going to Germany, was to ask my contacts from Facebook and email to rally together to have Christmas cards written to give to our wounded troops. When we passed out some of these cards (I hand delivered 539 which I received prior to my flight from JFK) at the center, the soldiers lit up saying how nice it was to have complete strangers reach out to them with words of encouragement and thanks. Words cannot begin to convey my gratitude for those who spent countless hours making and writing cards .. or for the kind donations of gifts sent to me to take to the wounded.

I can't wait to share more stories from the next visit to Landstuhl with Airline Ambassadors, which I hope is in the not so distant future, and having more volunteers join us in supporting our Wounded Warriors!


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