Everyone has an answer to the simple question: Why did you join the Army? The answer is far more complex and often times is touching and compelling, true to the character of our nation. Most of all, it is restorative to those who may have doubts about our nation and its greatness by offering a sense of inner peace in the perpetuity of our nation.
The narrative that was most poignant in my soul was that of Major Sandra Mason, or “Mom” as I affectionately refer to her as, who served as a military assistant and my direct supervisor within the Department of Defense. Major Mason was a strong woman of faith and conviction, always ready to offer encouragement and kindness, and ready to adopt any “young kid” she encountered. Last summer, I was blessed to be the kid in her life. Halfway into my position, I casually inquired Major Mason why she had joined—the story she told I will never forget.
“Son” and “Mom,” Summer 2010 at the Pentagon
Upon graduating from Our Lady of the Lake University with a Masters of Social work and motivated and inspired by her father, a retired Army Tech Sergeant, as well as her conviction to serve, Major Mason, then 2LT Mason, commissioned into the Texas Army National Guard as a Medical Services Officer. She deployed to Afghanistan and served with valor, returning home to work at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas as a Counselor Advocate.
Often times, we ask “why did you join” and our answers are manifested in a quick reaction but the question, “what inspires you to be a member of our armed forces”, those are the furthering questions that really scrutinize the inner root of one’s decision. It is here where Major Mason’s story takes root.
While working at Brooke Army Medical Center, Major Mason had the opportunity to take care of Sgt. Merlin German and assist his family. Sgt. German had burn injuries to over 95 percent of his body due to an IED attack in Iraq. His initial prognosis had been harrowing but through nine months and over a 100 operations he survived.
And through the heartaches and struggles, Major Mason witnessed the very essence of the human struggle for life as well as the beauty of life restored. Sgt. German began to gain a nickname on post—‘Miracle Marine’. Major Mason tearfully recalled that after 17 months, Sgt. German was able to leave the hospital to stay at the Fisher House with his family who had been through the pain and suffering, and the utter triumph, together.
Sgt. German learned to live with pain and to stare at a stranger’s face in the mirror. He learned to smile again, to joke, and to make others laugh. But that wasn’t enough for the Miracle Marine; he decided to start a non–profit to help burn victims, particularly for burn victims who were children.
In spring 2008, just when the doctors had begun to declare the culmination of his triumph, Sgt. Merlin German, USMC, lost his battle.
Major Mason ended her story with tears in her eyes. This narrative and the hundreds like it inspired her to come to work every morning and give it her best. It was her love and passion for our wounded warriors, especially those who struggled to return to society after their service, which allowed her to take solace even after witnessing the horror that is war.
She then turned back to her work and I did to mine. But there was this poignant silence, broken only by the silent rapid clicking on the keyboard, which held within the office. Sgt. German’s story is one of many narratives. A Tech Sergeant, who was also severely burned in Iraq due to an IED, also described the pain and suffering of surgeries and his fight to overcome the odds. His simple desire—I want to be there for my son.
The Tech Sergeant was worried that his three year old son would be afraid of his appearance but as soon as he arrived home, his son ran to him and embraced him. The Sergeant tearfully stated that this was the best feeling in the world. When others told him he was a hero, he replied: “I was just doing my job. I just don’t see myself as a hero”.
This is our impetus to serve and the essence of our nation. It is that spirit to not give in to a definite negative prognosis but to fight with our very will and essence. It is why I am convinced that although my generation will face the greatest challenges our nation has witnessed since the post World War II era, we will also find our greatest triumphs. It is time to step into our role as the next greatest generation. We already have the essential foundation—heroes.
Your Fellow American,
This is Part 1 of 2 of a new blog series “The Next Greatest Generation”. My next blog will be covering the story of Megan and Ashley Bunce who began their own non–profit, Grateful Nation, in response to their Marine brother’s injury while serving in Iraq.
For more information on today’s story, please see the following articles: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-05-24-miracle-marine_N.htm
Fisher House is a non–profit that Major Mason referred to in the piece. More information can be found here:http://www.fisherhouse.org/