America Supports You: Airman Dispenses 'Medicine You Can't Bottle Up'
By Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, Nov. 23, 2004 Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel Vargas is not certified to practice medicine. Nonetheless, he admits it feels good whenever he can prescribe a good dose of fun to boost the morale of injured military members recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
Army Sgt. Joe Washam poses with bass player Bee Spears
following a Willie Nelson concert at Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth, Texas,
Nov. 12. Washam suffered burn wounds in April while serving in Iraq. Photo by
Master Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Vargas, an information management NCO assigned to the Air Force Recruiting Service headquarters here, often volunteers, organizes and coordinates with influential community leaders across the state to sponsor hurt soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines on an evening out.
"They get to dine out, enjoy complimentary sporting events and concerts, and other forms of entertainment," he said. "It is medicine you can't bottle up."
Most recently, more than 50 patients received a patriotic welcome as guests of the city of Fort Worth. Arriving Nov. 12, the charter bus carrying America's military heroes received an 11-motorcycle police escort from the outskirts of the city all the way to Billy Bob's Texas nightclub.
The group then met the mayor and event sponsors, ate a barbecue dinner, watched a rodeo and finished the evening off with a Willie Nelson concert.
Behind the scenes, Vargas worked throughout the event ensuring everyone received a pleasurable experience. He even arranged for two soldiers to go back stage and meet Willie Nelson's bass player, Bee Spears. They also socialized with other country-western fans who were quick to thank them for their service and sacrifice.
Army Cpl. J.R. Martinez, one soldier who went back stage, said he was grateful Vargas made it possible for him to enjoy himself and get his mind off of the dozens of surgeries and hundreds of physical therapy sessions he has undergone since running over a landmine with his Humvee in April 2003 in Karbala, Iraq.
Martinez, who served with the 101st Airborne in Ft. Campbell, Ky., said he is touched by the outpouring of support from everyone at the hospital, other military members and the public. He said he's especially thankful Vargas has shown such an incredible interest in their well-being.
"It's really touching to see that the American people are stepping up to support you no matter what their political beliefs," Martinez said. "It's heart-warming that Sergeant Vargas uses his personal time to arrange events like tonight with the Willie Nelson concert. He needs to be recognized for what he does and people need to know that he's really appreciated by me and all the other injured patients at BAMC."
Over the past several months, Vargas has gotten close to a lot of the wounded troops participating in the various activities he's put together. That closeness is what many patients appreciate as much as the events themselves.
Army Master Sgt. Pam Nelson, a Reserve NCO assigned to the 172nd Corps Support Group in Broken Arrow, Okla., injured her back while serving at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, in January. She said Vargas has done a great deal for the soldiers and other military members going through rehabilitation.
"He's done such a wonderful job of showing how much he appreciates what we've done," Nelson said.
At Willie Nelson's concert, Nelson said she always wanted to see the country western great in person. "I remember listening to Willie as a kid growing up, and it was a dream come true for me to actually get to see him," she said.
Another appreciative NCO at the concert was Army Sgt. Joe Washam, from the 321st Military Intelligence Squadron, a Reserve unit in Dallas. He suffered burns when a chemical warehouse exploded April 21 as he sat in the gun turret of a Humvee while assigned to the Iraq Survey Group and has been recovering at BAMC since.
"The concert was great," Washam said. "The public attention toward the wounded was sensational. It was a huge morale boost for all of us."
Washam also praised Vargas for setting up another superb activity for the troops like him who have come back from war with visible and invisible scars. "I've asked Sergeant Vargas several times why he gives so much of himself for us," Washam said. "He just says it could easily be him and he would not want to be forgotten."
Vargas said he doesn't expect any publicity for his volunteer effort. He just wants to be a conduit for others to show their appreciation for what these brave men and women have gone through, he said, and for the wounded to get out of the hospital for an evening of fun now and then.
"It's very simple," Vargas said. "This could be me. This could be you. This could be anybody who is deployable. We have air bases right now that are on the front line. and they are getting shelled every night. You don't hear about it on the news, but it is happening."
He said his commitment to boost the morale of the wounded troops stems from imagining himself in their situation. "We have to remember the wounded coming back home have to live with this the rest of their lives," he said. "Every time they look in the mirror they remember what happened to them, so I think anything we can do to show them they are appreciated and to let them know their sacrifice was just is worth doing. And I for one am not going to forget about them."
Vargas has also arranged outings to a Keith Whitley concert in San Antonio, Texas Rangers baseball game in Arlington, Texas, and Texas Longhorns football game in Austin, Texas. He has organized several trips to concerts at a local amphitheater and was instrumental in Sea World providing free tickets recently to wounded troops and their families staying at a Fisher House in San Antonio.
(Air Force Master Sgt. Lee Roberts is assigned to the 12th Flying Training Wing.)