By Kristian Whitesell
Have you ever had a moment in your life that humbled you so greatly that it was almost surreal? That’s just what the Alamance Republican Women and Senator-elect Rick Gunn (R-Alamance) experienced when they visited with wounded soldiers on Nov. 16.
Zan Bunn, regional vice president of the N.C. Federation of Republican Women, told us about the Fisher House at Fort Bragg. She spoke at our July (Republican Women of Alamance) meeting and showed us pictures of this amazing place.
"We knew at that point that we wanted to take this trip and learn more about how to support our wounded soldiers," said Julie Emmons, president of the Republican Women of Alamance.
The Fisher House program is a private-public partnership that provides a home-away-from-home for family members of wounded soldiers while their loved ones are hospitalized, at no cost to them. This organization was started in 1990, when Zachary Fisher, a supporter of the U.S. Armed Forces, and his wife Elizabeth, dedicated more than $20 million to construction of these houses. Since the program’s start, Fisher Houses have provided housing for more than 50,000 families, and there are now 29 houses throughout the country.
After visiting the Fisher House, the group headed up the road to the nearby Womack Army Medical Center, a 155-bed facility that covers more than 1 million square feet. This hospital is one of the busiest military medical centers in the nation, and the group was given a tour of it by Sgt. Major Kellyanne O’Neil. Afterward, the sergeant took the group to visit with two soldiers, Sgt. Philip Leonard and Sgt. Sean Pennings, both of whom were wounded in Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago.
When the group entered Leonard’s room, the first thing they noticed was how many machines that he was hooked up to. His wife was sitting beside his bed, wrapped in a blanket, and according to the soldier, "she hasn’t left my side." The group then visited Pennings, who is in recovery from a gunshot wound in his right leg.
"The most eye-opening thing to me was the humility of the wounded soldiers. They were thanking us for being there, and we were thanking them for their bravery and sacrifice. Womack is a place where they are treated with not only world-class medical care, but with the utmost compassion and respect," Emmons said.
Pennings was in a wheelchair when the group visited him. O’Neil explained to the visitors that one of the toughest things, especially for men who are wounded, is the fact that they lose their mobility for a while. When asked if Pennings would ever be back to normal, the wounded soldier looked to O’Neil for an answer.
"Unfortunately, I cannot answer that," she said. "It will take him about a year to recover, but you can never tell."
"It is hard to put into words the overwhelming gratitude that I feel after meeting these brave gentlemen," Emmons said. "We go about our daily lives and can easily forget that right now our brave soldiers are sacrificing their very lives for our freedom. We can never repay our debt to them, but we can say ‘thank you’ in so many ways. I encourage my fellow citizens to find out more about how you can make a difference in the lives of our service members and veterans."
For more information about the Fisher House Foundation, visit www.fisherhouse.org.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski