After an absolutely fantastic time in and around Camp Ederlie/Vicenza, Italy I hopped a Ryan Air (highly recommend) flight from Venice to Frankfurt Hahn airport. Well, actually before the flight my "landlord" SGT Iles grilled up some great burgers and hot dogs. He, his lovely honey, Carilsa, Martin Diaz de Leon and I stuffed ourselves with those. Last farwells then Martin drove me to the airport. I'm grateful for his kindness.
Landed at Frankfurt Hahn very late in the night. MaryAnn had arranged for a cab to pick me up and drive me to the hotel. She was a lifesaver to do that. Although it was dark there was a clear sky and a wonderful moon for most of the drive. The countryside was covered in snow and the evergreen tree bows were laden down. It was a breath taking drive.
When we pulled up to the hotel MaryAnn came running out to greet me. It was wonderful to see her and get a hug. We were both exhausted but stayed up until 2:00 or 3:00 chatting and catching up. I don't remember my head hitting the pillow that night.
The next morning MaryAnn and I stopped on the way to Landstuhl Hospital for pastries and coffee. Oh how I love European coffee! Then off to the front gate to wait for one of the Soldiers who works at the outpatient barracks to come sign me in. Final stop WORK! MaryAnn had piles of boxes stacked in the office - mail that needed to be opened, inventoried then stocked. Each customs form had to be checked against the contents of its box then placed in a bin for MaryAnn to write a thank you note. I came to realize VERY quickly that I don't know how MaryAnn had the time to do it all. Thank heavens for the volunteers she has.
Photo above is part of the mail that was received the second day I was there. The larger boxes in this photo were filled to the top with sweat pants and hoodie tops from Mark Delfini. They arrived just in time! The stock, particularly on the XLs was gone. Mark sends a steady stream of these to MaryAnn - thank goodness!
Other boxes included hand made blankets, socks, athletic shorts and hygiene items. One of the boxes was from Sandy Mandigo. The box contained the 100th hand made blanket sent from Sandy WOW! Just WOW! MaryAnn has the story at the link a couple of lines up. Please go read the story because it's about MUCH more than Sandy making and sending 100 blankets. You'll be sorry if you don't read about Sandy.
The boxes pictured above contained mostly hand made blankets
Hand made blankets by a lot of awesome AmericansThe photo above was taken in one of the storage rooms in the basement of one of the outpatient barracks. Looks like a lot of blankets but they'll be gone in days. MaryAnn is very persnickety about how and where things are stored until needed. And she HAS TO BE. The volumn of items that come and go through those storage rooms is mind boggling. Need an Army blanket? Right over here. Marine blanket - over there. Navy and Air Force - right behind you on those shelves. Definitely a system that works.
Out patient Barracks #1
Each of the Outpatient Barracks has three set of shelves like the one pictured above of SA items available. And each of the three are mirror images in both of the barracks with one exception. One of the barracks is for Army, Navy and Air Force enlisted men only. The other is for Marines, Officers and females of all branches. So the second building has items for females that the first barracks doesn't.
Now here's an interesting twist. All of the SA stock rooms are in the barracks that house the enlisted males. In order to get items from the stock rooms to the other barracks one has to pull the stock, place it in exotic containers (ok, they're really big black garbage bags used solely for the purpose of transport), throw the bags over your shoulder (the more you carry the fewer trips you have to take), up the stairs to the main lever, down the hallway, through the lobby, down the stairs, turn left, left, right, pass the USO, cross the street, into the lobby of the other barracks, down the stairs, turn left, down the hall and turn right into the room where the shelving is (also the laundry room).
Tidy up the shelves, fold items which have been unfolded and place them back in the bin...which reminds me...YO, men....if a clear plastic bin has ONLY WHITE tshirts in it or ONLY BLACK hoodies in it and the bin is clearly marked with S, M, L or XL why do you have to pull out EVERY item in the bin to get the item you want? I'm just curious??? :)
Repeat as many times as necessary regardless of the weather - rain, snow, ice, howling winds, etc. I cannot tell you how much more respect I have for MaryAnn and her volunteers. Never thought I could have more but I certainly do now. By the way, I've just discussed the mornings at Landstuhl. The stocking, pulling stock, tidying shelves and restocking in both barracks has to be done at least one more time each day and often twice more.
Three nights a week MaryAnn loads up her cart with blankets, backpacks, knit caps, etc and heads off to the wards to pass those out to the wounded who will be on the medevac flight from Landstuhl to the USA the following day.
Find the cart on the main level. Schlep the boxes of blankets, backpacks, etc up the stairs to the cart. Through the lobby, down the ramp, to the security gate. Gain access to the hospital. Up another ramp, through the door, onto elevator, out of elevator, walk VERY LONG corridor to first ward. Turn left. Stop at nurses station to inquire about those on the medevac flight while counting the number of gurneys staged in the corridor of the ward to know how many on that ward are going. Pass out items including SA coins to those who are awake and desire to have items. Wish them well and thank them for their service. Return back past the nurses station pausing the thank them, too. Out to main corridor, left turn, walk to next ward, turn left down corridor and repeat, repeat, repeat. Oh darn! Not enough back packs. No worries, we'll go retrieve more and come back.
As we were leaving the wards that night I took the following photo. I'm no photographer by any stretch of the imagination but as I followed MaryAnn down that very long corridor this image brought on a wave of emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other. I had to wonder, after all these years that MaryAnn has spent at Landstuhl, not only how many times she has traversed this corridor but how many miles she has walked and what her thoughts must be each night as she returns to the stock room.
MaryAnn after late night rounds of the wards
It's more than rewarding but incredibly exhausting work. The first day I was there we left the hospital around 22:30 and we hadn't remembered to eat since breakfast.
In the photo above MaryAnn is untying three of the hand made blankets that some, apparently bored, service member had tied together - AT EVERY piece of fringe. We laughed so hard!
On my last day at Landstuhl I spent time with two other very special people. Stephanie McCulley (man I'm embarrassed not to remember her current rank) and CPT Jay Kopcha.
Stephanie McCulley and me at Landstul hospital
Back when Stephanie was a PFC I had the privilege of supporting her and her Platoon when they were deployed to Iraq.in 2007. Stephanie was a medic with 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team. From the article linked below, "Pfc. Stephanie McCulley, a combat medic with 3rd HBCT, from Uniontown, Pa., followed the steps of her grandfather, who raised her. They both served in the Army. They both served in combat, and they both earned a Bronze Star Medal as a private first class."
"During World War II, Jobes fought with the 398th Infantry Division in France. From January 1945 to March 1945, Jobes routinely volunteered for dangerous night patrols to hinder the Nazi defensive preparations in his sector. Jobes went out an average of three nights a week for three months. His service and commitment did not go unnoticed by his superiors. As a private first class, Jobes was awarded the Bronze Star for his exemplary performance in Eastern France."
"Sixty-two years later, Jobes' granddaughter would earn the same award for her service in Operation Iraqi Freedom."
You really need to go read the whole story here. You REALLY DO!
Stephanie is a nurse at Landstuhl now. She is married to a former Marine and they have two handsome young sons. I enjoyed every minute of my lunch with Stephanie. It was so good to catch up with her and find out how things are going in her life. The time passed way too quickly. It was like seeing an old friend but Stephanie had to go pick her sons up from school. I am so thankful that she made time in her schedule for me.
After lunch with Stephanie it was back to the salt mine with MaryAnn - who hadn't left or missed a beat. I took her a wrap so she wouldn't "forget to eat" again.
I had been emailing with CPT Kopcha who had insisted on driving over from another Army post in Germany to visit. I knew he was en route. I was in one of the stock rooms unpacking hoodies and sweat pants and putting them on the shelves when Jay snuck up on me.
Golly it was good to see him. It's been years. I "met" Jay through a fellow troop supporter friend, Agnieszka. Jay was deployed with the 10th MTN, 1-32 to eastern Afghanistan (Kunar) in OEF VII. Funny, as I wrote that it occurred to me that I was supporting he and Stephanie around the same time.
Anyway, some of you may remember that the 10th MTN, 1-32 was initially deployed to eastern Afghanistan for 12 months. At the end of the 12 months they were extended for another 3 months. Some of their Soldiers has already landed at Fort Drum; others were literally in the air when the extension was announced; some were in Bagram ready to head hone and others, including Jay, were still "inhabiting" Camp Blessing. It was a brutal deployment. The 3 month extension was relentless with respect to the fire fights and casualties they took. Camp Blessing at that time was little more than a clearing with Hescoes - certainly not the built up camp it is now.
For you ROCK Paratroopers who have always asked, "how'd you get hooked up with us?" You may either wish to thank or curse this man. During the RIP between 10th MTN 1-32 and the 173rd, 2-503rd Jay "introduced" me to Mike Zeidler. Jay asked Agnieszka and me to please continue our support of their replacements. Mike Zeidler, in turn, connected me with the 3 Battle Co Platoon Sergeants including SFC Matt Blaskowski. The rest, as they say, is history. Bottom line - it's all Jay's fault. :)
CPT Jay Kopcha and me
Slave driver, MaryAnn, excused me from duty - well, once I finished the boxes I was working on, and Jay and I went to dinner. It was wonderful to catch up with all that is going on in his life. I had a wonderful time and am very thankful to Jay for making the trip over.
MaryAnn and I stayed up until close to midnight chatting about my time there as well as another subject of common interest - our beloved military and their families. It is a privilege and a pleasure to call MaryAnn my friend. I cannot wait to go back to visit her again.
The following morning I had to be awake at 04:00. MaryAnn was sleeping soundly in a room across the hallway in the hotel. It seemed wrong not to say goodbye but I knew we'd been up late the night before and that she had a long day ahead of her. So I quietly whispered my farwells at her door and lumbered down to the lobby and into the shuttle for the ride to the Frankfort airport.
I am one of the most fortunate humans on this planet for the opportunities I have had and the very special people in my life. Thank you MaryAnn, Stephanie and Jay - not just for the time together on this trip but for all you do each day. I love you all!