In Western Germany the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center is the largest US military medical facility outside the U.S. and gives care to both US and coalition forces, as well as their families. KJZZ’s Tony Ganzer visited Landstuhl, and brings the voices of three Arizonans in the military medical system, with very different stories.
“The war in Afghanistan…a lot of people I guess forgot about it,” says Joshua Valles from his hospital room in Landstuhl, Germany. The Staff Sergeant is only in his late 20s, but has served four tours of duty in combat zones, one in Kosovo and three in Afghanistan.
“When I first got here people asked me, ‘Oh you got shot in Afghanistan?’ I said yeah. They said, ’We didn’t know there was a war in Afghanistan.’ I was like oh yeah, there’s still a lot of combat going on,” he says with a slight chuckle.
Valles is from Tucson, and joined the Army right after high school, finding his place in the 173rd Airborne Combat Division based in Vicenza, Italy.
On this day he’s recovering from surgery on his leg where doctors repaired some damage, and removed a bullet, taken during a nighttime patrol shift in Afghanistan.
“Uh, we got ambushed,” Valles says, recalling the incident. “It was at night. Uh…We didn’t even see them, they were just waiting for us. One of my friends got shot first. He got shot in his femoral artery. I was going to help him but there was too much heavy fire coming through.”
Valles noticed a Taliban fighter trying to flank the American unit, running about 15 meters away.
“As soon as I um saw him I…uh..shot him. There was another machine gunner—a Taliban—he seen me shot him. And he was right in front of us…right in front of me and my friend. I didn’t see him until he started shooting. I told my friend to get out of the way cause he was going to get shot again, so he got out of the way, and that’s when I got shot,” he says.
The bullet shattered Valles’ femur bone, and he was rushed to Landstuhl.
His buddy died.
Doctors told Valles he would never run again, and the injury effectively ends his ability to serve in combat. For now he’s been transferred to a transition unit, and the military will offer him a non-combat job. Valles instead wants to go to the University of Arizona for a criminal justice degree and to try another profession.
“More DEA than FBI. It’s another one of those things, they didn’t completely forget about it, but the war on drugs,” he says. “I’ll go to another war now….hopefully.”
Valles is single, though his parents and siblings still live in Tucson. He says life in the military is something you just get used to. He assures he’ll run again with time, though for now he gets around with crutches.
“I can’t wait to go home, but I do enjoy being here.”
Chief Hospital Corpsman Gabrielle Duffy is a lab technician at Landstuhl, in charge of blood and chemical testing. She’s a naval reservist who works at the Phoenix Veteran’s hospital on Indian School Road.
This is her second mobilization in 5 years.
“There’s that added adrenaline because the mission can come any time,” she says. “Of course at a regular hospital back home you don’t have that feeling of buses coming in to bring wounded. Here you have to be hyper vigilant and ready for anything.”
Duffy’s family moved to Arizona from Hawaii in 1977, and she’s worked with the VA hospital for 16 years. Her mother still lives in Casa Grande, and they keep in touch with video calling.
Duffy is single, and says that probably makes being abroad a little easier for her. Even still she says the experience is sometimes overwhelming.
“We hear names and numbers but you have to know that person has more of an identity than that face and a number…what they have sacrificed, and they may have family, extended or otherwise. You shouldn’t forget that,” she says.
Duffy hopes to go home sometime in October.
Lieutenant Colonel Melissa Hale, a life long Arizonan from Mesa works in the Maternal medicine wing. She’s in charge of every aspect of maternal child nursing, and has been in the service for 20 years.
“Nursing, when I came into nursing, I think nursing has highs and lows, and nursing jobs were harder to come by. And the army offered me a good thing, so I joined the army,” she says.
Hale says people sometimes forget Landstuhl cares for people left behind, as well as wounded soldiers. She says a lot of her job is about taking care of the families of those deployed soldiers.
“You may not completely understand everything they’re going through, but I think they feel like you’re there for them. You’re a connection,” she says.
Hale, and all the Arizonans interviewed for this story were asked what people back home might be missing about the military mission abroad.
Hale emphasized the consensus view.
“I don’t think you know unless you were here,” Hale says, with some tears in her eyes and passion in her voice. “I know that sounds so stupid. But…it’s a personal emotional thing to me. It’s not political to us here. It’s a personal belief thing to me. I mean these guys who come off the plane with no arms or no legs aren’t there doing it because of political reasons. They do it because they believe in it.”
Hale, Duffy, and Valles all say they’re working to complete their mission what ever that may be.
Hale says Landstuhl may not be the middle of a war zone, but it’s pretty darn close.