Fort Bragg medics connect with veterans at VA Medical Center

By SEAN NEAL | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: February 8, 2014

Fort Bragg soldiers reached out to their predecessors today, visiting veterans at the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

And the platoon of medics discovered they had more in common with the veterans than just their uniforms.

"I got to speak with an Army boxer. I used to be a boxing coach myself," said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Davis. "Being able to have that connection with them. Even though there's a generation gap, there's a lot of similarities."

Davis is a medic from the 3rd Brigade's 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division. Today, he and other soldiers spent time with veterans in the hospital's Community Living Center, which is for patients needing long-term care.

The visit was part of National Support for Veteran Patients Week, which officially begins next week.

The soldiers were led from room to room to speak with veterans, gathering to share stories and hand out 3rd Brigade coins.

"Really the main focus is just to remind the community that we have veterans here, and to thank them for their service," said Norma Fraser, the Voluntary Services Chief at the medical center. "The Fayetteville community support is fantastic."

The paratroopers asked the veterans their fondest memories, among other questions, following each with a respectful "sir."

The visits were serious, but not without lighthearted moments.

Army veteran Harold Forrest shared an Elvis impersonation with the platoon.

Another veteran, retired Sgt. 1st Class Richard Gomez, said the visit was enjoyable.

"It reminds me of old times," said Gomez, before wishing his visitors well. "I hope they have a good time like I did. I hope they make it through."

Fraser said even though some of the veterans had trouble communicating, the enjoyment on their faces was clear.

"They swap stories. And for the service members, it's like meeting history. It's a win-win," she said.

Davis, who has spent 17 years in the military, said the visit was "the ultimate experience."

"It gives us a better appreciation," Davis said. "They have sacrificed so much more than we will ever know."

He added that the visit also was therapeutic. Like many other soldiers, Davis said he has struggled with post-traumatic stress.

"One of the best ways of coping is to come up here and see some of the veterans," he said.

The medic platoon leader, 2nd Lt. Jose Arias, said the visit was first and foremost about education.

"The main focus is to learn the VA system, so we can provide the best care we can for our paratroopers that are in transition from the military into the VA system," Arias said.

But sharing memories and hearing stories from the veterans was a bonus, he said.

"I can just see it in their eyes," he said. "I can feel it in their handshake, that they wore this uniform before me."


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