By Master Sgt. Ben Gonzales
Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
11/16/2009 - SAN ANTONIO (AFNS) -- The two lead actors of the television show "Friday Night Lights" visited wounded warriors, military family members and U.S. servicemembers with a message of appreciation Nov. 14 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
Kyle Chandler, known as Coach Eric Taylor on the show, and Connie Britton, starring as the coach's wife, spent time encouraging warfighters at Brooke Army
Medical Center, signing autographs at the Fort Sam Houston Post Exchange, and talking to wounded warriors and their families at the Warrior and Family Support Center and Fisher House.
The television stars and the Warrior and Family Support Center staff share a common desire: to improve the lives and morale of the wounded warriors.
"We just came to say thank you to everybody here," Ms. Britton said. "We know they have been through a rough time, and the most amazing thing to me is that when I talk to Soldiers, they say they want to get healed up and go back out (to the war zone). It's inspiring and great to talk to you all.
"I'm just always amazed at the good spirits of the troops, which I attribute to their courage," she said. "You have to be made out of something strong to have the courage and go fight for all of us, and then if some get injured, they then have the courage to not get down about (their injuries)."
Recovery for some wounded warriors is a slow process. To ease the burden of long days of medical treatments and therapy, servicemembers and their families can rejuvenate and relax at the Warrior and Family Support Center. The 12,500-square-foot, $5.6 million facility built solely by donations gives patients a place to recharge their batteries and connect with those closest to them. The center has 20 modern computers that can be used to e-mail family and friends as well as serving as a classroom to learn all about the latest technology. The center also has a dining room, picnic area and a video game room where recovering military members at Fort Sam Houston can link and play games with their buddies in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere in the world.
"We are the only agency in the military that exists off of donations," said Judith Markelz, the Warrior and Family Support Center program manager. "We provide (recovering military members) education and fun. We help set up 70 trips a month for the warriors, lunches, dinners and other items that help build the morale of these men and women. It is all donated and it is all free for those assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion here."
Servicemembers with missing limbs or severe burn wounds are commonplace at and around the Warrior Transition Battalion. Most warriors here spend weeks or months recuperating and getting back to "a whole new normal way of life," Ms. Markelz said. "It takes a triad of healing: body, mind and spirit. This is a place to heal the spirit. People (in the Warrior and Family Support Center) come here to laugh, play and even cry."
Army Spc. Adam Watkins comes to the Warrior and Family Support Center to be around some of his friends and unwind after hours of appointments at the Brooke Army Medical Center. The Soldier has been here since May 24, 2007, after a Stryker vehicle he was driving was hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq. He suffered numerous wounds including being burned on 36 percent of his body and broken bones in his leg and foot. He lost most of his fingers. With the extent of his injuries, medical professionals told his parents from Fayetteville, Ark., that the Soldier had only a 26 percent chance of surviving his wounds.
"I cannot recollect anything that happened until July 2007. For weeks I was really messed up, and was in (the intensive care unit)," Specialist Watkins said. "The medics know their jobs and are respectful. If this injury had happened to me a few years ago, I would not be here today."
He still does physical therapy five days a week, but 23-year-old Specialist Watkins said he is looking forward to returning to Fayetteville in the next few months where he plans to go to the University of Arkansas. He also wants to go hunting and fishing, something he has been able to learn to do again and has taken advantage of some excursions provided to warriors at the Warrior and Family Support Center.
But not all servicemembers here were injured supporting operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Army Sgt. 1st Class Todd Griffin was involved in a debilitating motorcycle accident in San Antonio and suffered multiple wounds to his ankle, leg and shoulder. Currently in a wheelchair, he has been recovering here since the accident in December 2008, and faces amputation if the bones in his leg do not heal properly. With his wife, Vicki, and son, Daniel, Sergeant Griffin spent most of the day at the Warrior and Family Support Center not just to meet and give combat medic coins to the television stars, but to be around fellow servicemembers and lift his spirits.
"Anything you could possibly ask for is available at the Warrior and Family Support Center," said the sergeant who was assigned at Camp Bullis, Texas, and prepared medics going into the war zone. "From financial support, services for weddings to providing trips to build our morale, this place does a lot for the warriors. The facility and the staff here are great; like second mothers."
The Warrior and Family Support Center personnel and Brooke Army Medical Center medical professionals are not the only ones who care for the wounded warriors. Businesses and individuals from throughout the nation support the military members recovering here, and Hollywood personalities like Mr. Chandler and Ms. Britton know who the real stars are.
"It is an honor to meet these guys," Mr. Chandler said. "Being here gives us a chance to say thank you personally to individual Soldiers and also, hopefully representing the people around us in our communities, to let them know that there are people out there thinking about them."
"Friday Night Lights," based on the book and movie by the same title, is a critically-acclaimed show about a fictional Texas high school football team. The show uses a small-town backdrop to address issues facing modern America, and this upcoming season will include a link to American military members.
There will be a military storyline on the current season of the show, Ms. Britton said. "It's a really powerful couple of episodes. We will have a military funeral on our show this season, and it is a family member of one of our cast members in the show."
Ms. Britton said she hopes "Friday Night Lights" might lift wounded warriors' spirits.
"When I meet some of these guys who are going to have to be stuck in a hospital bed for a long time, if nothing else, I hope (our show) can take their mind off the pain and boredom for a little bit; that would mean we are doing our jobs," Ms. Britton said. "Keep up the good work and know we are out there thinking of everybody who is on the front lines for us. We appreciate you."
A saying used on "Friday Night Lights" is, "Clear eyes ... full hearts ... can't lose," Mr. Chandler said. "That stands for a lot of people no matter what is going on. It's the heart of our show too. You don't give up and you don't quit. If you stick to it (and have) clear eyes and full hearts, you can't lose. I saw that today with a fellow that I met. He was sitting there with a halo on his leg and he is going to have it there for a while. This kid is 20 years old, but one thing that was immediately evident is that this is a 'can-do' injury. He said he was going to overcome it and these are the stages that he would take to overcome it. He had clear eyes, a full heart and he was not going to lose. To be able to meet people like that and get a piece of that allows me to go out and share it with people. It gives you a big sense of what's really important."