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Cartoonist Helps Troops, Fisher House

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2006 – Award-winning satirist Garry Trudeau of "Doonesbury" fame visited the Pentagon today to meet with troops wounded in the war on terror and present them autographed copies of his book featuring the healing process of a comic character he said they inspired.

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Army Spc. Joey Kashnaw, a 4th Infantry Division soldier who lost his leg after being wounded in Taji, Iraq, in September 2003, meets with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau at the Pentagon. Photo by Donna Miles

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

"The Long Road Home: One Step at a Time," tells the story of comic strip character "B.D.," a National Guardsman who lost his leg during the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq and suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Like many real-life U.S. servicemembers who have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, B.D. was evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany before his transfer to Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center. There, as he undergoes the painful healing and rebuilding process, B.D. and his wife Boopsie are cared for at Fisher House, a home away from home on the hospital's grounds.

Trudeau said he received much of the background and inspiration he uses to tell B.D.'s story in his Doonesbury strip from wounded troops he has met during numerous visits to Walter Reed and the Fisher House. In return, he's donating all proceeds from "The Long Road," a book compiled from the strip, to the Fisher House Foundation.

The foundation operates 33 Fisher Houses in the United States and Germany and plans to open six more soon, said James Weiskopf, the foundation's vice president for communications. These houses, on the grounds of military and veterans hospitals, offer a setting where family members can be close to their loved ones as they are hospitalized for an injury, illness or disease. "I've made some friends over there at the Fisher House," Trudeau said, noting that he finds "enormous satisfaction in being able to help them."

Trudeau said he decided to take B.D., a former football star, and have him receive a life-altering injury because he wanted to dramatize the kind of sacrifices troops are making in a very direct way.

Since his initial injury, caused when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee just outside Fallujah in April 2004, B.D. has endured the long road to recovery in a way that's inspiring, insightful and even humorous.

"There's a twisted part of my brain that squeezes humor out of anything," Trudeau said of his ability to inject humor into some of the life's most difficult circumstances.

While he has no concrete long-term plans for where he will go with his story, Trudeau said he would like to see B.D. advance "to a place where he can manage his symptoms and live a productive, normal life."

In one possible scenario, B.D. could return to Walter Reed as a peer counselor, sharing his experience and wisdom with other wounded troops as he helps them through their own recoveries, Trudeau said. In doing so, he said he can help bring visibility to other combat-related injuries that don't get the same amount of public attention as amputations.

Trudeau said he gained immense inspiration from wounded troops in developing B.D.'s character and is hopeful they'll find inspiration in B.D. and "The Long Road" as well. "I want it to be a tool to help them in the coping process," he said.

While every wounded troop has different experiences and different injuries, all share some common threads woven into B.D.'s character, Trudeau said.

During visits to Walter Reed, Trudeau said, he's been "astounded" by the wounded troops' lack of bitterness or self-pity and impressed by what he calls their "indomitable spirit." So many express hope of getting better so they can return to their units, even when that likelihood seems impossible. "It takes your breath away," Trudeau said.

Trudeau said he considers it "quite a privilege and an honor" to be able to sit at wounded troops' bedsides and have them so openly share their experiences, as well as their hopes and fears, with a total stranger.

Army Spc. Joey Kashnow, a 4th Infantry Division soldier who lost his leg after being wounded in Taji, Iraq, in September 2003, was among the troops Trudeau met with today at the Pentagon.

"I think it's fantastic what he's doing," Kashnow said of Trudeau's support for wounded troops. Sitting with the cartoonist and chatting about his injury and the long healing process he's undergoing, Kashnow said he's glad to see people put politics aside as they focus on the troops.

Trudeau admitted that it's no secret he's not a strong advocate of the war in Iraq, but said B.D. is not about politics, but rather, about American support for its men and women in uniform. "We're asking a great deal of our servicemembers," he said.

Like B.D., Kashnow demonstrates a toughness Trudeau said he so commonly finds among wounded troops. Kashnow hopes to stay in the Army, go to helicopter school and become a pilot. And just like B.D., he might even become a peer counselor to help other wounded troops through their recovery, he said.

"I'm too young to be this crippled," the 27-year-old Baltimore native told Trudeau. "It just doesn't work for me."

By portraying stories like Kashnow's through his fictional character, Trudeau said, he hopes to keep reminding Americans about the sacrifices their servicemembers are making, particularly those who return home wounded.

Trudeau plans to release a second book of B.D.'s story, "The War Within: One More Step at a Time," later this year. Like the original book, it will consist of comic strips from the Doonesbury series, which is syndicated to more than 14,000 newspapers worldwide.

Trudeau said he welcomes feedback about B.D., "The Long Road" and the Doonesbury comic strip at his Web site.

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