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Special visitors at Landstuhl brighten patients’ day

Savvy Shields, Miss America 2017, and Patrick Murphy, under secretary of the Army, visit with Army Cpl. Kayla Aninion at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016.

JENNIFER H. SVAN/STARS AND STRIPES

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 25, 2016

LANDSTUHL REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Germany — A day after eating Thanksgiving dinner with U.S. troops in the Middle East, the Army’s second-ranking civilian leader, accompanied by Miss America 2017, spent time with patients and staff at this U.S. Army hospital.

Patrick Murphy, the under secretary of the Army, and Savvy Shields, who was crowned in September, visited LRMC Friday morning before returning to the States after stops this week in Jordan and Kuwait.

At LRMC, they met with several retirees and a young Army corporal from Fort Bliss, Texas, who was recovering from an illness that has temporarily sidelined her from a year-long deployment to Qatar.

Though the hospital was relatively quiet on Friday, that can change in a moment, said LRMC commander Col. James Laterza. The hospital recently treated a dozen wounded servicemembers from an attack at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan Nov. 12 that killed two U.S. servicemembers and two contractors and wounded 16 American servicemembers and a Polish soldier.

Kayla Aninion, the corporal deployed to Qatar, was happy to greet the visitors from her hospital bed and talked at length with Murphy about opportunities for women in infantry jobs and ranger school.

“It’s nice to see some new faces, after being around the same people the past six months,” she said.

After being on a liquid diet for nearly a week, Thursday’s Thanksgiving spread of soft foods — creamed corn, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and ground-up ham — tasted like a feast, she said.

“I guess this is my R&R,” she joked.

Murphy and Shields spent Thanksgiving in Kuwait, where they served up dinner and ate with the troops at Camps Arifjan and Buehring.

Though they had the ear of Murphy, who made a point of asking servicemembers about their concerns and needs, some only had eyes for Shields, he said.

“I had a specialist — we were in Jordan — when he saw Miss America next to me, it was like I wasn’t even there,” Murphy said.

Shields said she most enjoys hearing soldiers’ stories: “What’s the best thing about being here, what’s the worst thing?” she said.

“They’re all a little bit nervous at first. They don’t really know what to do with the crown,” she said, referring to the sparkling crystal tiara on her head, “but then after that, they start realizing, you’re a real person, they become very open and that’s what I wanted.”

Sgt. 1st Class Lydwina Robinson, a human resources specialist from Louisiana who’s currently assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, and a patient at LRMC, bumped into Shields at the USO Warrior Center across the street from the hospital. Even though Shields, who’s from Fayetteville, Ark., mentioned the recent defeat of Louisiana State University by the University of Arkansas in college football, Robinson was brightened by the meeting, she said.

“We hardly ever get to see people come just to greet the soldiers,” she said. “It’s another bit of home away from home.”

On his second trip to the Middle East since February, Murphy, an Army veteran who served two overseas deployments, said he thought it especially important that he visit during the holiday.

“When I was a soldier and deployed during the holiday, it meant a whole heck of a lot to have visitors come over,” he said. “You think, ‘hey, everyone’s having a great time back at home eating turkey, etc.;’ you feel like you’re forgotten. It’s an especially important time for senior leaders to go there and let them know that we love them and that we’re doing everything that we can to support them.”

It also gives soldiers a chance to air what’s on their minds and some did so, Murphy said.

“I think we’re going to look at certain things, especially as it deals with Kuwait, some campaign medals and some R&R issues,” he said.

The morale “was great,” he said, something he also found while visiting troops in Afghanistan and Iraq earlier this year.

“It’s very spartan conditions right now in Afghanistan and Iraq, but our soldiers love it because it allows them to focus on the task at hand.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

Army Sgt. 1st Class Lydwina Robinson gets her photo taken with Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields at the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016.
JENNIFER H. SVAN/STARS AND STRIPES

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