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Vice President Opens Home to Recovering Troops

WASHINGTON, Nov. 24, 2009 – As Army Sgt. First Class John Wright lay in a hospital room after being wounded in Afghanistan this summer, he probably didn’t envision himself feeling especially thankful a few months later.

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American Forces Press Service

While on a dismounted patrol in Kandahar province in July, Wright led his platoon through a dangerous area where he thought a weapons cache was hidden. As he walked in the direction where he thought the stockpile was located, his foot triggered an improvised explosive device.

“I don’t remember the blast or the pressure or the heat from the explosion,” he said. “I just remember waking up afterwards and realizing that my leg was missing.”

Last night, Wright and other wounded warriors recovering at local Fisher Houses and their families joined Vice President Joe Biden and the vice president’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, at their residence here for a family-style Thanksgiving meal.

“I think it was a wonderful thing that the vice president and his wife did to open their home to soldiers and wounded warriors,” Wright said today in an interview. “The hospitality was amazing, the conversation was great. I sat right next to Dr. Biden for part of the meal, and the other part of the meal, the vice president sat down with me. The conversation was common folk conversation. It was Anywhere, USA.”

Though Wright is now fitted with a prosthetic leg that allows him to walk, he needs a wheelchair until he’s able to build his endurance to remain mobile for long periods of time. “Within 3 to 4 months, I should be able to ditch the wheelchair and be able to walk,” he said optimistically.

Speaking to Wright and about 35 other wounded warriors, military families and other guests, Biden recalled that the vice presidential home through the years has hosted presidents, heads of state and famous world leaders.

“But I can say without fear of contradiction, never before has this place been accorded such honor as with your presence here today, and I mean that sincerely,” he said. “You possess more courage, dignity and a sense of patriotism than any other group of Americans.”

The Bidens, whose son Beau served in Iraq as a captain in the Delaware National Guard, felt the sacrifice a family experiences when their loved one is deployed over the holidays.

“Thanksgiving is just a few days away, and this year I feel especially thankful that we have our son Beau home with us, because like Joe said, we’re a military family,” she said. “I’m a military mom, and I remember what it was like on Thanksgiving for our whole family. We pretended like everything was OK, but our hearts felt heavy. I know how many of you feel or many of you have felt.”

Dr. Biden, who has reached out to military families across the country since her husband joined the campaign trail, said she tries to impart a message to Americans.

“One thing I’ve tried to do is to say to American families, ‘Reach out to a military family in your community,’” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing. Take them cookies. Put a wreath on the door. Stuff a stocking. Take some books over for their children. Whatever it is, reach out to a military family and say, ‘Thank you.’”

As Wright continues his physical recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, he also has embarked on another form of recuperation: learning to be comfortable with his place in society.

“When I got hurt, I kind of wanted to stay within myself and draw away from the public eye because of my injuries,” he said. “I was kind of self-conscious about my scars. I didn’t really want to interact with anybody, except my wife and my family.”

But the more he interacted with the world outside his family, he said, the more his sense of normalcy began to return. A family-style dinner like last night’s, he added, is a welcome shift of focus away from his injuries.

“You tend to focus on other activities such as the football game last night or the upcoming holiday season -- other than just, ‘Oh, I got hurt, and now I’ve got this godawful scar, and now I have this leg,’” he said. “So it’s very helpful. The social interaction really helps the psyche.

“It’s a shame that more people did not accept the invitation because I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he continued. “It was the chance to meet the vice president and his wife, and just come to find out that they’re normal Americans that like to open their home to wounded warriors.”