for HSLDA members
Second HSLDA Essay Contest
Category 2 First Place

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center

By Claire Novak

When most people think of the ideal vacation, they picture scenic mountains or beautiful oceans. So when I say that I would spend my time at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the reactions are all the same - a blank stare and the inevitable, "Why in the world would you want to go there?" It's a good question, especially since that's not where anyone would normally choose to spend a holiday. Still, I would rather spend two weeks there than a month-long vacation in Florida. Allow me to explain.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is one of three remaining Army hospitals in Germany. Built in 1951, it quickly became a key location in the European theatre. Today Landstuhl is home to a specialized medical staff composed of Military and Civilian personnel. They treat the men you hear so much about - soldiers from Middle East Operations such as Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Many Americans think the dangers to our troops are over because fighting in Iraq has come to a relative end. This is not true. According to Landstuhl Medical Center's commander, Col. David Rubenstein, "...a lessening of hostilities in Iraq... really does not translate to stoppage of the flow of patients from Iraq."

Landstuhl is the facility where U.S. Service Members are treated prior to returning stateside. The soldiers who are brought there gave up the personal rights and conveniences that civilians often take for granted. They pledged to protect the United States of America. Now they are paying the price for their bravery.

The patients at Landstuhl must learn to live life all over again. The young man who used to mow your grass will come home from this place with only one leg. The Marine who left a wife and baby will return to hold that child with his right arm as his left heals. The sergeant with a severely burned face, the army medic who saved a man's life but lost his own leg in the process, the tank commander who was run over by one of his own vehicles... these wounded soldiers lie alone at Landstuhl. Some are in deeper pain than others, but they all ask the same question, "Was it really worth it?" They look to their fellow Americans for an answer.

Although Landstuhl has a full staff of chaplains, social workers, and psychiatrists who work to repair the soldiers' mental health, the soldiers also have access to news from home, and that news is not very encouraging. Outspoken celebrities and negative journalists have combined to send a message to our troops - they had no business to fight in this war. No business? When their very pledge was to stand against evil? When their Commander-in-Chief sent them to fight and they did - this was wrong?

Most Americans would never want to add to the pain of our wounded soldiers, but people who criticize them so easily are doing just that. Our country remained free throughout history because of brave men and women, and today's soldiers are no exception. Because of their sacrifice, liberty will live on. Our wounded soldiers have paid the price. Their blood was spilled to preserve the rights of mankind.

The soldiers at Landstuhl bear the marks of true courage and honor, but they are left in doubt, wounded in body and spirit. Very few Americans are aware of their situation or care to support them. It is my utmost desire to let these suffering heroes know their sacrifice was not in vain. I long to walk among the wounded at Landstuhl, to tell them - not as a politician or journalist, not as a high ranking officer - but as a fellow citizen of the country they fought to defend, it was worth it!

The healing process is long. The wounds are deep, but the wounds of hatred and opposition go even deeper. The men and women who have sacrificed so much for this country deserve our greatest appreciation. Coming home while others are still in combat will not be easy for them. The least we can give them is a warm welcome and our sincere gratitude. They have definitely earned it!