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A dose of perspective

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeremy J. Novak
  • 87th Security Forces Squadron commander
Most of us will never know the extent of the pain, frustration and challenges Staff Sgt. Brian Williams and other wounded American military personnel face. Every wounded warrior's injuries are unique, and unfortunately, Brian suffered more than just the loss of his left leg to an improvised explosive device blast April 25. We can all empathize with wounded warriors, and we can appreciate the daily struggle they each face, even if we are evaluating them based only on the visible injuries.

This commentary is about the perspective of the 87th Security Forces Squadron and myself received by being part of Brian's recovery. Even Brian admits he is questioned quite often how an Air Force member ended up being a wounded warrior amputee at Walter Reed. It is not a common occurrence for the Air Force, not even for a career field like security forces.

We first found Brian on a C-17 Globemaster III loaded with wounded service members. We then located Brian's hospital room in a skyscraper at Walter Reed with several floors dedicated exclusively to injured service members returning from overseas. Later, our small group visited Brian while he was at physical therapy as he learned how to walk using only one leg and a crutch. The first humbling experience for anyone visiting Brian is the sheer number of wounded warriors in various stages of recovery. We expected to see Brian as soon as we walked through the door. Instead, we had to meander through a room full of wounded warriors. At first, you just notice the wounds, but then you notice every one of the wounded warriors has a look of determination on their face seldom seen outside professional sports. We were not only overwhelmed by the numbers, but were inspired by these brave young men.

Watching Brian heal and progress from a powered wheelchair, to wheelchair, then to a prosthetic leg, can bring perspective to anyone's life. Brian showed us a drive and determination to overcome obstacles that others would find insurmountable. He pushed himself so hard to walk and appear like everyone else that Brian got ahead of the software programming in his prosthetic leg. He explained to his physical therapist that he was disappointed he couldn't master the movements to climb stairs. The technician ran a diagnostic on Brian's prosthetic and realized the leg didn't have the download for stairs yet. Brian wasn't supposed to progress that far for another couple weeks.

We really got a chance to talk to Brian and other wounded warriors about day-to-day struggles while playing foosball or basketball. It is easier to speak freely doing this rather than sitting bedside in the hospital. This again brought about another dose of perspective from someone else's reality.

A few visiting unit members heard a discussion between Staff Sgt. Ben Seekal, another security forces military working dog handler amputee, an Army infantry double-leg amputee and Brian during a wheelchair basketball water break. The discussion revolved around the shock-inducing agony caused when an amputee's stump accidentally hits the floor. The Army sergeant explained how he held himself up against his bed rails on the floor while grimacing in pain to desensitize his wounds. Brian has so much tissue damage to his hands that he can't manipulate buttons and other intricate tasks. Moments like that really bring perspective to our own day-to-day struggles.

I recommend everyone take a day and visit Brian, or any of our other wounded warriors, at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The experience can trigger many emotions, but I guarantee it will change your perspective on things. Everyone needs a little dose of perspective every now and then to help prioritize what is really important in life and work.