Monday, February 14, 2011

A different place in the Southwest corner

This column was published in The Lebanon Democrat January 24.

SAN DIEGO – Last Thursday, my family went to a place greatly different from anything in Tennessee I know about.

This place where we went is good, but in some ways, it is bad, even sad. My visit rerouted today’s column.

I was going to write about Lebanon places, which no longer exist, or I was going to write about my lifelong friend Sharry Hagar who is challenged with health issues and hopefully succeeding. I have put those thoughts aside for later.

My daughter Sarah and I went to the Navy Medical Center, Southwest Region to get her a new dependent ID card and ensure she was covered on our healthcare program. To keep us both straight, Maureen joined the cavalcade.

We parked the two cars and walked to the modern complex downhill from the old hospital buildings. The medical center is in Florida Canyon, adjacent to Balboa Park and the Zoo.

Inside the “Personnel Services Detachment” (PSD), Maureen waited while Sarah and I went into the cubicle with three positions for processing, sitting at the end position. Soon a young man took the middle position. When he arose to leave, he drug one foot stiffly as he exited.

I hope he was completing rehabilitation from a disability while in Iraq or Afghanistan. The fact he was in administrative processing suggested he was on his way to recovery.

Sarah received her ID, and we moved to the next task. This time, Maureen accompanied Sarah into a cubicle while I sat in the waiting room. An attractive young woman sat down with one of those new-fangled combo portable crib-car seat contraptions. I admired the baby’s knit cap with bear ears on top and asked the mother if she was the knitter. The woman proudly gave credit to her own mother.

Looking at the tiny baby, I asked his age. She told me he was into his third day. The father rejoined them, and they disappeared into another cubicle: young adventurers serving our country in troubling times but encouragingly normal.

Paged by my wife, I went to our cubicle. Looking back, I watched a young man enter with difficulty. He was in a wheel chair with both legs missing from the knees down, obviously from military action. . He broke my heart.

I wanted to walk over and thank him and say something encouraging, but I just couldn’t think of anything encouraging to say. While I pondered, he received his needed information and left.

We decided to lunch at the cafeteria, walking through the plaza surrounded by the six main buildings. We saw almost a dozen casualties from military action walking about the plaza. Most had prosthetics for both legs, some with just one. Others were walking on crutches.

Maureen noted how she didn’t mind being routed to civilian dermatologists because the department here was overworked from attending to the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan. There was a lump in her throat.

San Diego’s Naval medical center is one of a few treating severe military casualties. The old hospital buildings, originally planned for destruction, have been renovated and are a rehabilitation center for hundreds of severe casualties from our conflicts.

There has been an incredible outpouring of volunteers and ad hoc non-profit organizations who are dedicated to helping these young veterans and their families to return to civilian life with as much normality as possible. The efforts have been, for the most part, successful and heart warming.

I am sure the people in Lebanon would respond with as much support as those in the Southwest corner. But the travesties of military conflict are in my face, unavoidable here.

With every young man and woman I passed in the complex last week, I cried inside. It occurred to me I spent over twenty-one years of active duty with the possibility of being like these young men staring at me. I was luckier.

It does not seem fair because it isn’t fair. It is life, and now a life much more difficult for them. I wish I had an answer for them, but there is no answer as long as terrorism and domination are the goal of idiots, locally and internationally.

So for the past few days, the Southwest corner with its beautiful sunny January isn’t quite as beautiful for me.

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