I went to Walter Reed Medical Center on Friday morning with Victor Juhasz, Michael D. Fay, and Fred Harper. We visited wounded warriors who have recently returned from the theater of combat in Afghanistan to get stable and begin physical therapy. It's during the slower season in the year, winter, when fighting is less intense, so there were only seven soldiers there that day.
Joe is 21 and was hit by an IED last month near Kandahar. He seems to be doing well, was fitted for prosthetic right lower leg and was being discharged to a residential building on base that day. He had a lot to say about the war and was interested in continuing his military career after physical therapy. I found I was slow at getting a likeness and neglected to put the battery in my camera (didn't bring audio either) so I was feeling pressure to get it right. He was really great to listen to, I liked his subtle sense of humor.
Zac Blaisdell was recovering from arm surgery to regain rotation in his left wrist. He had been hit by and RPG in a bazaar in Sayadabad over a year ago, nearly blinded in his right eye, and had injured his left knee and arm.. He had been out of the hospital for awhile and has been playing golf regularly, though he says he's not the best. Since he had the surgery a few days prior to our visit, he was pretty sleepy but was so kind to answer our questions. We had to wear surgical gowns and latex gloves. It is hard to draw with latex gloves on because your hand gets sweaty and pulls at the paper so that your hand slows down. It was very dark and quiet in Zac's room, and there were no decorations on the walls since he had just returned from surgery. It was peaceful. He smiled more than I thought he would, a little grin every once in awhile. He was incredibly sweet. His mom told some funny stories about the president visiting and trying to get into that crazy gown thing, apparently he had a hard time with it.
Derek McConnell was the last soldier we visited. His room was bright and loud, the TV was on. His mother and fiance were there, and there seemed to be a lot of action. He was a really awesome guy to talk to, very bright and alert, and very happy to take off his shirt and tell us about his injuries--a truly remarkable spirit. (You can read more about his recovery process on the blog his mother is using to document his progress, Walking With My Wounded Warrior). All of the men we spoke with were very calm and possessed a clarity and maturity in looking at things that is rare in most people of any age, especially young men. When Derek talked about his plans for the future he said, "I want to be really good at walking", the way I would say "I want to make a comic in gouache". They're all very determined to fight, and you could see that in Derek very easily.
I have so many comments and thoughts that it would be hard to post them all here, but I will be creating a comic book about the trip in time, to be published in time for the Small Press Expo in September and will post it here as well. It was an absolutely incredible trip. The other artists I went with were really inspiring and very funny and kind, and all the people we spoke with at Walter Reed were great. Lots of thanks to Michael and Victor for navigating through the red tape for all of us. I am hoping to return to Bethesda with the group this year to speak with the veterans again.