Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Boys on the Fourth Floor, Part Two

The first soldier we met was a captain who had been hit by a twelve year old suicide bomber in Afghanistan. He was adamant about not using his name but let us hang out while he finished his breakfast and chatted with a friend. He was really interesting to listen to and had a lot to say about the politics of fighting, why we're engaged in a war in Afghanistan. He told us a really good story about being corralled onto a bus and taken to a far flung steakhouse near D.C. with many of the other veterans in a bus emblazoned with the phrase WOUNDED VETERANS. Since his injuries are primarily on his back and buttocks, a two hour bus ride was grueling. He had a really beautiful cane that was hand carved by a volunteer organization, the head of it was a painted bald eagle and the body shaft was covered in symbols representing his unit and friends he has lost in the war.

Carnes was very bright eyed and upbeat and smiled an awful lot. He told us about all the celebrities that have visited him in the ward (Minka Kelly is beautiful, Kevin Bacon is sort of strange, and John Meyer is an o.k. guy). He was 19 when he was hit by an AK bullet that left him with a spiral fracture down his left femur and an exit wound in his right hip that damaged his sciatic nerve. He's had several surgeries and can walk, but has a 'foot drop', which impairs dorsiflexion. He was invited to throw the first ball at the Washington Nationals game this week, but declined to due to concern that he would inadvertently pull his staples. I can't express what an upbeat, friendly, and engaging guy he is.


The last soldier we met that day was First Lieutenant Michael Rhoads, who was very recently hit on April 15th by a bullet while lying prone on patrol. The bullet entered near his top left shoulder and missed his heart, but collapsed his left lung. He received emergency care and was in Germany around four days before being flown to Walter Reed. He was doing remarkably considering he had been in Afghanistan less than two weeks before. He is working to regain full capacity in his left lung and says he sometimes talks like an excited kid, taking deep breaths in between sentences, though when he spoke with us you wouldn't have guessed there was anything laborious about his breathing. He had a really cool apparatus that he used for breathing exercises; I think Ray Alma got a good photo of it that I would like to paint from. The deployment of his unit ends in September and he would like to go back after taking a break back home in Portland, but he is not sure it is realistic. He was very quiet and very tall and seemed exhausted.
All of the men we met were very gracious with their time, though I felt like a bit of a nuisance because these soldiers get an unfathomable amount of visitors each day and are in the process of recovering from really brutal injuries. I hope that this project will honor them and not treat them like a sideshow of curiosities, as often is the case. They are all incredible people that deserve dignity and respect and peace.  I can't wait to go back and visit again and hope that I will remain in touch with the people I have met there.

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