To kick off United We Serve, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center. The Secretary said that meeting with the soldiers, “lifted him up.”
Speaking about the soldiers, Gates said, “their grit, resilience and indomitable spirit amaze and inspire me every time."
Equally inspiring is the work of volunteers at the Walter Reed Medical Center. About 1,500 hospital volunteers are part of more than 560 organizations that pitch in to help with the needs of staff, soldiers and families. Already they have logged nearly 27,000 volunteer hours this year.
Grace Park, a college student and volunteer at the hospital, spends a lot of her time providing videos to the troops. But she said she also enjoys talking and getting to know the troops. Being younger, Park said, she fits in with the younger population of troops. They talk about anything, she said, including politics, movies and sports.
Park plans to make volunteering a life-long venture."Why wouldn't we volunteer? These wounded warriors did so much for us and we just come in, six hours a week to rent out videos. It's such a small service compared to what they do for us. It's just our way to give a helping hand," Park said.
“Countless activities and projects, tens of thousands of volunteer hours, work sustained over many years – the collective magnitude of what you have accomplished cannot be summed up in just a few minutes,” noted Secretary Gates. “Let me just say that, for those whose lives you have touched, every gesture, no matter how small, has a tangible impact.”
Some volunteer for specific functions or special events, others pick up trash or plant flowers, and some host regular dinners for wounded soldiers and their families. It is all aimed at making them feel at home while spend time recovering.
Cynthia Rome, the director of Army Community Service at Walter Reed, said the hospital has always had a strong volunteer base, including some volunteers who have contributed for more than 30 years.
But in the past three years the volunteer program there has flourished. Now she has two full-time staff, who organize the program and find jobs for the volunteers. Commanders there want anyone to get involved who find meaning in volunteering.
If there were no volunteers, "that would leave us scrambling to make up the difference. Because they really do a tremendous amount of work," said Army Col. (Dr.) Norvell V. Coots, Commander of Walter Reed Health Care System. "A lot of the things that they do would be impossible for us to do simply because of the manpower and time constraints that we have in the hospital."
Engraved high on the walls of President Abraham Lincoln’s memorial reads another President’s call to service, “care for him who shall have borne the battle.”
Secretary Gates closed by saying that the Walter Reed volunteers “have helped answer that call.”