Calendar Models Cheer Up Patients, Families at Walter Reed
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 16, 2004 It's amazing what wonderful feelings and bright smiles a dozen calendar models can bring to the faces of hospitalized servicemen recovering from war wounds.
Virginia Army National Guardsman Spc. Dean W. Schwartz, 21,
is surrounded by eight of the 12 "U.S. Angels" 2005 calendar models when they
visited patients at the Fisher House on the campus of Walter Reed Army Medical
Center in Washington. Back row from left to right: Tessie Foreman, Melissa
Foreman, Sarah Camden (Office of the Secretary of Defense Policy Training
Center), Tricia Grierson and Crystal Wood (Indianhead Naval Base). Front row,
left to right: Georgia Maltezos-Neary, Crystal Virts, Schwartz and Katrina
McConkey. Photo by Dawn Glencer
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Fisher House Foundation donates "comfort homes," built on the grounds of major military and Veterans Affairs medical centers to enable family members to be close to hospitalized loved ones.
"It turned into a big cook-out when we brought tons of food to the Fisher House for patients and their families," said Glencer, the training coordinator for the Office of the Secretary of Defense Policy Training Center. "I'm sure we supplied enough for their picnic for the rest of the year."
Apehanger's, a "biker" bar and grill in Bel Alton, Md., supplied a sheet cake with the Fisher House and Harley-Davidson logos.
"It really touched the girls -- seeing how badly wounded the soldiers were," said Glencer, a former Marine. "But finally getting a chance to meet and talk with them and their families has really renewed the spirit that's carrying this calendar project."
A motorcycle enthusiast, Glencer founded U.S. Angels last March at Apehanger's. She has spearheaded several fundraisers to support service members. Glencer raised $10,000 for the Pentagon Disaster Relief Fund after Sept. 11, 2001, and another $10,000 for the Pentagon Memorial Fund in September 2003.
Glencer and some of the U.S. Angels returned to the Fisher House on July 14 for another visit with patients and their families and to pass out copies of their 2005 calendar, featuring pictures of them with their motorcycles.
One of the returning "angels," Miss January, Mary "Cat" Von Garlem, said she was overwhelmed with compassion when the mother of a soldier suffering from a serious head injury in Iraq told her that she'd made him smile for the first time in more than three months.
"She said that he has had no purposeful movement or reactions for three months," Von Garlem said. "And she said this was the first week that he had actually shown signs of recognition for his family. I talked with him for a while, and he held up his hand to shake my hand. I told him that I'm a nurse, but I didn't dress like that at work because my patients would go into shock. That's when he smiled.
"I almost cried!" Von Garlem said. "His mom was so thrilled. She said that was his first smile! These guys and their families have made such huge sacrifices. I do feel it's a privilege to be able to give back even in such a small way.
"I called my parents in southwest Virginia to tell them what a meaningful experience it was," she continued. "Now my mom is organizing a church yard sale to raise money to send to the Fisher House. I love the idea of putting awareness out there for the Fisher House and hopefully encouraging others to contribute."
After her second trip to Fisher House, Von Garlem said, "I really would like to make several trips back to the Fisher House to visit with the patients and their families."
A Virginia Army National Guardsman, Spc. Dean W. Schwartz, 21, said it was nice of the women to take time to visit patients at Walter Reed. "They said they really enjoyed it and wanted to come back," he noted.
Schwartz arrived in Kuwait on March 3 with B Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, which was attached to the 2nd Infantry Division's Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He went into Iraq about five days later. On May 8, he was wounded in a rocket- propelled grenade attack.
"I was standing guard on a machine gun," he said. "My assistant gunner and me had just switched spots; he took the machine gun, and I took his M-16 rifle. (The attacker) was just concealed too good, and nobody ever saw it coming. The first thing we heard was the explosion that took off my left leg." Schwartz also suffered shrapnel injuries to his right arm, a collapsed lung and a blown eardrum.
"When I got hit, my team leader, who was the driver, sustained some shrapnel injuries, as did my assistant gunner," said Schwartz, who arrived at Walter Reed around midnight on May 13. "But they were both superficial wounds, so nobody got killed."
The wounded specialist expressed how much he and his fellow patients appreciated the visits from the calendar models. "I'd just had surgery the day before on my amputated leg that had a wound that wouldn't close, so the surgeons closed it," Schwartz noted. "It was nice to get out of the hospital and see some support right after my surgery."