There won't be any photos in this post out of respect for the Wounded Warriors and their families. I didn't take any photos. As you read this post I hope you will understand why I didn't.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) for a few days. One morning I witnessed the arrival of the Wounded Warriors from down range - Afghanistan and Iraq. I won't lie, I had a lot of trepidation about this. As it turned out it was one of the most difficult and poignant, yet heart warming events I've experienced.
The night before, while MaryAnn and I made her normal rounds in the hospital to visit the Wounded Warriors who were going out to the states the following day, word was that there weren't many casualties scheduled to arrive from down range the next day. I knew that was great news!
The following morning was about as beautiful a day as one could ask for. Blue skies. Crisp temperatures. Even for Germany that was a blessing in early July. MaryAnn and I were up at the crack of dawn, literally, in order to get to the hospital to meet some of the outpatient Wounded Warriors for breakfast. They ended up over sleeping but I got to spend a few minutes with them and say my good byes which was the point of breakfast anyway.
After leaving the Wounded men MaryAnn and I casually walked over towards the emergency room entrance and took a seat on a bench within eye shot of the emergency room but far away from where the ambulance buses, or ambuses for short, would come in and the staff would receive the wounded. MaryAnn began to explain to me what I could expect to see; who would be dressed in what way (staff from ICU, man power staff, etc). The man power staff are those who, in groups of eight, take the litters from the ambus and place them on the gurneys so the Wounded Warriors can be wheeled into the hospital. MaryAnn explained that they are required to have eight people from man power because the litters can weight up to 750 pounds with the Wounded Warrior and the medical equipment he/she has with them. I'm sure my jaw dropped open when she told me that.
We waited and waited and waited. MaryAnn commented that the flight seemed to be unusually late that day but that you never really know when the flight(s) will arrive. We noticed that several gurneys were rolled out from the emergency room exit and were placed under the awning where the ambulance(s) would arrive. They kept bringing more gurneys. Ugh! I began to realize that the "word" there weren't many casualties from down range may have changed.
Finally the LNOs, hospital medical staff, PAO staff, chaplains, etc began to gather; Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, men in uniform from other nations. They were all talking but no one was talking in a loud voice. Many were comparing "notes" on clipboards. My assumption was that they were comparing names, degree of injury and where that patient would be taken, branch of the military, etc.
Long after we arrived an ambus (a bus sized ambulance) pulled up and everyone went into action. There was so much going on I couldn't keep up with it. A gurney was pulled to the ambulance. Four people from man power stood on each side of the gurney. The medical staff member who had attended the Wounded Warrior on the flight from Afghanistan or Iraq exited the ambus and came around to be with his patient. He'd been up for HOURS caring for his patient in flight but had no hesitation in quickly getting to his patient.
I made a very wide walk around the perimeter to watch as they removed the patient from the ambus - being extremely careful not to be in any one's way. The patient was moved to the door of the ambus. I realized what MaryAnn meant about the "up to 750 pounds" with all of the medical equipment. This Soldier was surrounded by and covered with so many machines I could barely see him/her. With great precision and extreme care the man power team began to pull the litter from the ambus and pass it gently down the line to the next person on the team. Once each of the eight member team had the litter in hand a muffled command was heard then the littler was placed on the gurney. Immediately those "dressed" as identifiable from the ICU moved to the gurney and they, along with the medical flight person, raced into the hospital.
The ambus door was closed and the vehicle drove off but the staff remained in place indicating more incoming. *sigh*
Sometime later a van pulled up at the emergency room. About 6 or so "ambulatory" military personnel exited the van and moved around to the back to retrieve back packs and/or small duffel bags. They were taken into the hospital by the LNOs via a different door than the emergency room. These troops may have any myriad of reasons for being sent to LRMC from down range. For example I met a Soldier a day or two before who was sent to LRMC for a biopsy on a suspicious growth. I'm thrilled to report that the day after I returned from my trip I learned that his biopsy came back negative. He was sent back down range.
The medical and other staff remained so we did, too. A little while later another ambus pulled up and the staff all timed and synchronized movements. It seemed so effortless. My emotions bounced between thinking how incredibly professional and intensely careful they were (and they WERE) to thinking about how often they have done this and why. The latter caused a huge knot in my stomach.
A gurney was moved in to place. A litter appeared at the door of the ambus. The man power team passed the litter down the line without so much as a bump or jerk. The litter was placed on the gurney. Someone with a clip board quickly moved forward but was finished with their task in mere seconds and the gurney was quickly rolled into the hospital via the emergency room door. Repeat, Repeat. Repeat.
On about the third repeat I noticed that once the litter was on the gurney the Chaplain would step forward, lean down and say something to the Wounded Warrior. Even the Chaplain didn't dawdle. As quickly as he stood up the gurney was whisked away into the hospital.
While I stood there waiting for the next ambus to pull up I reminded myself that on the other side of the hospital the same type of movement was taking place but in reverse. The only difference was that those Wounded Warriors were being loaded into ambuses to be taken to the airfield at Ramstein Air Base to begin their journey back to the USA where they would be reunited with their loved ones and friends. In way too many cases, they would begin the long journey, not only of healing but, of learning to live so differently. It was sobering.
The door was closed on the ambus but the remaining staff stayed in place. There were still more gurneys lined up. It's impossible to express in words what my emotions were at the sight of those remaining gurneys. I kept purposely distracting myself by looking at the unit patches of the LNOs still standing by - attempting to identify the units. Anything to keep my mind off of the fact that there were MORE Wounded Warriors coming.
I found myself feeling guilty that there were so many family members and friends thousands of miles away who would give most anything for the opportunity to lay their eyes on these men if only for a few seconds. But I had asked to be there and I wasn't going to run away. I wanted to be there to watch the staff. Not to "look at" the Wounded Warriors. As a matter of fact I made it a point NOT to look into the face of any of them. I just felt it would be disrespectful to do so.
In time the final ambus (or so we thought) pulled up. The same orchestrated movements began again with the same precision and ease. As the second patient was lowered to the gurney the Chaplain approached along with a Soldier from another nation. My guess is that he was there to translate for the Chaplain. What a huge confirmation that we are not in these wars alone.
It was well after lunch at this point. We had expected the first ambus to arrive around 8:30 AM but it didn't arrive until much later. We were hungry so we decided to grab some lunch in the hospital before heading back to the outpatient barracks to unpack boxes, inventory, re-stock the shelves, etc. After we finished lunch, and as we were walking down one of the long hallways in the hospital, we heard the public address system ask for all man power to make their way to the emergency room. That only means one thing - more inconming wounded. I felt my shoulders sink as we continued to walk to the outpatient barracks and I said a silent prayer for the Wounded Warriors and their families.
Here are some links that relate to this post. None of the photos were taken during the time I was in Landstuhl.
MaryAnn writes about what it is like inside the ambus upon arrival at Landstuhl
A photo taken during arrival one day during the past few years
A photo taken of Wounded Warriors departing LRMC for the USA