Article – Walter Reeds Finest sports morale T-shirts

Jan 11, 2007

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CPT Wood and Condolezza RiceThursday, January 11, 2007
By Matt Mientka Stripe staff writer
NB: Stripe is Walter Reed Army Medical Center’s internal newspaper

2nd Lt. Steve Wood gives Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice one of Ward 57s T-shirts of morale
Known as one of Walter Reeds finest, Ward 57 continues to garner a reputation for excellence in orthopaedics not only here but in the civilian medical community.

The prestige of working for the Armys topnotch orthopaedics unit motivated 2nd Lt. Steve Wood, a former submariner and scuba diver with the Navy, to leave his civilian nursing job downtown here to enlist in the Army.

Though Wood considered rejoining the Navy, the Army effectively guaranteed him a spot working in the National Capital Region  with patients returning from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When I first took the job, I thought there was a real possibility that it would be a down job, that it could be very depressing seeing these guys, Wood told Stripe this week. But the main reason I come to work in the morning is to work with these patients  and their spirits are so high.

Surprised by relatively high morale among troops returning stateside with shattered bones, missing limbs and other injuries, Wood brainstormed with former colleague 1st Lt. Kevin Jones about how staff members might otherwise match that morale.

Leaving a Washington Redskins game at FedEx Field last fall, they decided to brand Ward 57 with football-style T-shirts for patients and staff members.

The T-shirts soon became a hit as troops wore them to physical therapy and Wood posed with the shirts with visiting VIPs such as Secretaries of Defense and State, Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice.

However pedestrian, the T-shirts represent a real bond between staff members and patients, servicemembers and civilians on Ward 57. Composed with an equal mix of troops and civilians, Walter Reed draws from the extensive experience of civilian nurses and technicians but benefits also in a different way from its Army care providers.

On the military end, Soldiers caring for Soldiers, theres a certain bond there that is extremely therapeutic because we can put ourselves in their place and I think thats very helpful for these men and women, Wood said.

Yet, the entire staff is topnotch, Wood said. We really work as a team with these Soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though known previously for excellence, Ward 57 became more important to Army medicine following 9⁄ll and the outbreak of war, when the Army transferred the unit into its amputee center. At any time, the unit serves a couple of dozen patients, 95 percent of whom have recently returned from battle  often with shattering, life-changing injuries.

Surprised by the high morale of injured patients and those who work with them, Wood takes any opportunity to talk orthopaedics and to push the T-shirts, which are given to patients but are also available to others for $10. The T-shirts, subsidized by a corporate gift, represent just one gesture the civilian community has made to support the troops at Walter Reed, he said.