By Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Clifton
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 30, 2009 - The road to recovery for a wounded soldier can be long and difficult, but with the help of Army medicine and the love of military spouses and children, that road is shorter and smoother. For some soldiers who use the Warrior Family Support Center here, their sons and daughters have played an instrumental role in their recovery as wounded veterans.
Soldiers and their families use the center at no cost to them while they receive care at Brooke Army Medical Center here. Through peer and community support and recreational activities, the center provides a high-quality setting for the whole family as they return to normal life.
Reestablishing family responsibilities is critical to the recovery of many soldiers. At least 1.7 million American children have at least one parent serving in the military with an estimated 900,000 of those with parents who have deployed multiple times overseas.
On April 29, Army Secretary Pete Geren expressed his personal appreciation to a group of children of wounded warriors at the center.
"The Army is asking a lot of you all and I hope that we are doing everything we can to help you and your parents," Geren said.
Abby Smith, 10, the daughter of Spc. Jourdan Smith, an infantryman who served with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division of Fort Lewis, Wa., knows first-hand the hardships family members can face supporting their wounded warriors.
"When I first got injured, she didn't want to look at me, and I used to have to make fun of my injuries to try to cheer her up," said Smith, recalling how he told his daughter the wounds on his leg looked like train tracks. "She had a hard time dealing with my situation at first, but now she helps me more than I can believe.
"It was like she went from 8 to 18 in just two years."
Abby was 8, and her brother was 10 months old, when her father was injured by gunfire while serving in Iraq. She felt sorry for her father as well as for her mother who stepped up to take care of the whole family. So Abby contributed by helping her dad exercise his knee and by bringing him blankets on cold days and ice on warm days.
The crucial role spouses and children play in the recovery of injured soldiers is not lost on the Smith family, who also remember the days before the injury when Smith could play a more active role in the life of his daughter.
"Before I could run and play with her, but now I have to sit and watch," Smith said. "She has done incredible though and will help me tie my shoes or clear the table for me."
But the sacrifices Abby has made to help her father are larger than just helping around the house. Abby was forced to miss a lot of school after her father's injury, and eventually had to be taken out of public school in favor of home schooling.
"There are so many times I feel like I can't do anything, and there Abby is to help me out with whatever I need," Smith said. "She is my life, and I feel like I owe my life to her."
Their story is not uncommon. Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris, a Soldier recovering at BAMC, suffered burns on 35 percent of his body, and credits his daughter as the inspiration for his hugely successful recovery. His youngest child, Elizabeth, was four years old at the time, and when Harris was discharged on an outpatient status, Elizabeth assisted her mother with his daily care.
Since 1986, the Defense Department has recognized the sacrifices and applauded the courage of military children by designating April as the Month of the Military Child.