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Face of Defense: Proud Mother Comforts Wounded Warriors

By Jessica Overbeck
Armed Services Blood Program Office

FALLS CHURCH, Va., May 11, 2012 – Marilyn Durso cherishes a Mother’s Day gift that she calls “a sweet acknowledgment from a son to his mother.”

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Marilyn Durso donates blood at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., with her son, Army 1st Lt. Greg Durso, a platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y. Durso recently returned to the U.S. from deployment in Afghanistan. He and his mother visited three of his friends recovering from severe injuries at Walter Reed. Armed Services Blood Program photo by Vikki Fernette

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

It’s a shirt with the words “Warriors Come from Warriors” sprawled across the front that her son, Army 1st Lt. Greg Durso, gave her a few years ago when he was attending the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

At 23, Marilyn’s son, an Army ranger, deployed to Afghanistan.

“Wearing it meant more to me personally than wearing it for ‘show,’” she said, explaining why she wore the shirt under sweaters during her son’s deployment. While donating blood after her son returned home, she met several warriors and another “Warriors-Come-From-Warriors” mother.

As a platoon leader in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., Durso led 40 U.S. soldiers and about 30 Afghan troops. While on patrol one day, Army Pfc. Rex Thrap triggered a roadside bomb. Army Spc. Joe Mille ran to help him, but in the process, triggered a second bomb.

“They never cried out, they never lost their cool,” Marilyn said, noting the wounded soldiers were more concerned about their comrades.

Both Tharp and Mille lost their legs from the bombs.

“But because they were so poised and had it together, the medic and the rest of the team were able to attend to them more efficiently,” Marilyn said. “It’s survival, spirit and camaraderie. Who wouldn’t want to belong to a group of people who live under that code?”

Not long after, 1st Lt. Durso learned that another soldier and friend had been severely injured during a separate mission. One month into his deployment, Army 1st Lt. Nicholas Vogt’s platoon also struck several roadside bombs. Moments after the first detonation, Vogt pushed one of his soldiers out of the way of a second bomb, and took the brunt of the blast himself. Vogt survived, but required nearly 500 units of donated blood.

“Nick’s story is a heart-wrenching account of survival and what people are willing to do to keep others alive,” Marilyn said. “Once you have an intimate knowledge of the experience, you can’t just sit there.

“Even though I had never met Nick, when I heard from Greg about what happened, in that moment, everyone becomes your son and daughter,” she continued. “You quickly learn that the military family is large, and it’s not just the people in uniform -- it is friends, the community and the people who are willing to donate blood.”

Marilyn said her son wanted to become a soldier from childhood.

“As a mother, you don’t want him to do anything that puts him in harm’s way,” she said, “but you have to rely on his confidence, his training … you worry from [the time they enlist].”

For Marilyn, knowing that the Armed Services Blood Program is able to provide lifesaving blood to ill or injured service members worldwide helps to alleviate some of her fears of sending her son off to war.

“When I heard the story of Nick’s injuries and the story that led to his survival, I know in my mind what [our sons and daughters] are doing is real,” she said. “And it reminds me that there are men and women over there right now who still need our help.”

Lt. Durso, along with his mother and grandmother, visited Vogt, Tharp and Mille while they recovered at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. and also donated blood.

At first, Marilyn said she was concerned the visit would make her worry more, but she said “it brought me peace and confidence instead.”

“It was an emotional feeling to experience how truly dedicated the family was to the well being of those who do so much to serve and protect us all,” said Vikki Fernette, blood donor recruiter from the medical center.

Marilyn was able to spend time with Vogt’s mother, Sheila, and said she could see where Vogt got his strength.

“She’s amazing,” Marilyn said. “A mother will do anything to help her children get through a rough time.”

“It was an honor and a privilege to meet and chat with three generations of patriots who have experienced firsthand the close fight, both deployed forward and in support from back home,” said Army Lt. Col. Robert Pell, chief of blood services at the Bethesda medical center. “The Dursos truly define commitment, to each other, their military family and especially to the Armed Services Blood Program that they support with their selfless blood donations.”

Marilyn is planning to donate blood again when she is eligible in July.

“The facilities are beautiful and you get the chance to thank a soldier firsthand and see what they are up against, see their spirit and their great attitudes,” Marilyn said of the medical facility.

“I can’t wait to go back. How do you not do something that is so simple? If donating blood can keep them alive until they get to come back home, it’s a privilege.”

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