By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 4, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today thanked dozens of wounded warriors for their service and sacrifice during a visit to Brooke Army Medical Center here. The personal visit "really shows you care," Army 1st Lt. James Barclay, a burn patient wounded in Afghanistan on Aug. 19 by an improvised explosive device, told the secretary.
"There are a lot of people who care," Gates responded, shaking the wounded soldier's hand.
Gates spent time with each servicemember, most times bedside, asking about their medical care, hometowns and future plans.
"This is the best facility in the world for burns," Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Robert Bruce told Gates. "They treat us very good here."
Bruce was one of eight sailors injured Dec. 1 when a steam pipe ruptured aboard the Guam-based submarine tender USS Frank Cable. Two sailors have since died of their injuries.
Gates passed on a personal message to the sailors. "The secretary of the Navy wanted me to make sure I met you," he said, thanking them for their sacrifice.
When Gates asked about the food, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Henderson joked, "It's better than in Iraq." Henderson, from Fort Carson, Colo., was injured in Baghdad on April 15, suffering an injury to his hip from indirect fire. As Gates left the room, Henderson thanked him for coming, adding that he had just watched the secretary yesterday on TV addressing the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce.
"Don't believe everything you hear," Gates quipped, as he wished Henderson a swift recovery.
Asked by the secretary if they wanted to continue their military service, many expressed a desire to stay in the military despite the severity of their injuries.
"I want to stay in as long as I can," said Army Staff Sgt. Scott Adams, who was injured in Iraq in January. "This is my life."
Some servicemembers were just as excited to meet a former Texas A&M University president as they were to meet a secretary of defense, particularly Marine 1st Lt. Daniel Patrick Moran, a burn patient. The Marine had met Gates at his college graduation in 2003 when the former A&M University president awarded Moran his college degree. Moran had brought the pictures of himself and his brother with Gates at graduation and asked the secretary to sign them.
"I can't tell you want an honor it is to see you again," said Moran, with fellow "Aggie" and wife, Teal, and 4-week-old daughter, Macy, by his side.
Along with the autographs, Moran had another request. He asked the secretary if he would officiate at his Purple Heart Medal ceremony sometime in the near future. "He said yes," said Moran, calling Gates one of the greatest A&M presidents ever.
With A&M on his mind, Gates couldn't resist ribbing Navy Chief Petty Officer Peter Johns about wearing a University of Texas hat, A&M's primary rival. "That's why I wore it," Johns joked.
Maj. Gen. Russell Czerw, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School and Fort Sam Houston, said these types of visits carry more weight than any commission, report or study could. "Nothing can take the place of coming down and seeing how much the people here really do care," he said. "You have to see it firsthand to truly understand.
"I could see by their expressions that the patients felt extremely special," Czerw said of the secretary's visit.
For many wounded warriors, a few visits from leaders like Gates go a long way.
"It means a lot when someone comes here in person," Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Culbertson told Gates. "We don't need more medals or money, just someone to say thanks."
"Thank you for your service," Gates replied.
Gates wrapped up his visit by expressing his appreciation to the hospital staff for providing the "best care."
"We encourage other senior leaders to come visit," said Army Col. Carlos Angueira, acting medical center commander. "We're glad the secretary had the opportunity to see Fort Sam Houston and how important the care of wounded warriors is to us."
(Elaine Wilson works in the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)
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