Making a difference at home, abroad

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- When she was only 8 years old, Nicole Roundy, a Utah native, was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Within a year, Nicole lost her right leg above the knee and continued aggressive chemotherapy treatment. Just 10 years after that life-altering diagnosis, she took a deep breath and stepped onto a ski slope for the first time with a prosthetic limb. When skiing wasn't enough, she discovered snowboarding and determined to defy the impossible. Today, at 27, Nicole Roundy is the fifth-ranked snowboarder in the world in women's standing. She has a bachelor's degree, a career, and is happily married. In Nicole's world--our world--obstacles like the loss of a limb are life-altering but they don't prevent us from moving on. People will still love us. While the mountains are steep and the roads are rough, dreams can come true even for those with life altering disabilities and injuries. That isn't the case in all places and for all peoples. It certainly isn't the case for many in Afghanistan right now.

Muhtarama is 12 years old. She was a patient at Bagram Airfield's Craig Joint Theater Hospital while I served there as chaplain a few months ago. She was brought into the trauma bay because of a rocket attack on her home which, unbeknownst to her, took the life of her little brother and permanently crippled her. Muhtarama will never walk again.

There are no programs for Muhtarama to get the kind of therapy we expect in the U.S. Education in her province is not yet the government's priority for young women. I was told that due to her injuries, she will more than likely never get the opportunity to marry. Muhtarama's life, as she knew it, is over.

The story isn't much different for the maimed and wounded Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police that our medical warriors deployed to Afghanistan treat. Many will never again return to the fight. The majority have disabilities and brain injuries that will most likely hinder them from ever regaining a semblance of normalcy in their lives. And, there's no Department of Veterans Affairs in Afghanistan to care for them. There are no disability programs for them and their families. In fact, I'm told that when they arrive at Bagram's hospital their pay and benefits cease. From the moment of injury on, they will rely on the generosity of their families and neighbors. They will depend on the charity of others to survive.

I offer these stories first, as a reminder of the importance of what we do as Airmen. Before deploying, my understanding of the impact that we have on the world around us was extremely limited. Having been on the front lines, I now understand that whether flying an A-10 into combat to provide firepower for our ground troops, sitting underground manning the most powerful weapon known to mankind in order to ensure peace, defending a base, enabling our warfighters through a myriad of combat support roles, or fulfilling a host of other important jobs, you and I as members of the world's greatest Air Force are integral parts of a team that has and continues to impact history. Sometimes we do so through a show of force, other times through humanitarian work; sometimes by inspiring fear in the hearts of our enemies, still other times by encouraging and uplifting those who are hurting; sometimes the impact is on a national or political level, and other times, like with 12-year-old Muhtarama and the other patients we treated in Afghanistan, the impact is made one life at a time.

I also offer these stories as a reminder of how fortunate you and I are to live in this great land. It's easy to become blinded by our own difficulties and struggles and fail to see that the things we experience during our worst days are better than what the majority of human beings on the face of this earth experience during their best days. While you and I did nothing to choose where we were born, we are fortunate, and I would add blessed, to be citizens of the greatest nation on this earth.

Having seen the pain and agony that those in places like Afghanistan live with every day, the fear we bring to our enemies, and the sense of hope and compassion we bring to the wounded, I am grateful beyond my ability to express for the opportunity to not only call myself an American but to say that I am an American Airman. I am proud to serve beside each and every one of you. Whether you deploy to the missile field here in our own back yard or 6,000 miles away to the front lines of combat, you and I are a part of a team that is constantly making a difference--impacting the world around us!

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