Army reaches out to help wounded warriors
Daily Press
June 18, 2008

FORT EUSTIS - Almost four years after he was killed in southern Iraq, soldiers and family members of Spc. Raymond J. Faulstich Jr. came together Tuesday to honor his memory by placing his name on a barracks for wounded troops.

The 24-year-old Faulstich was the first soldier from Fort Eustis to die during the war in Iraq when he was killed by small-arms and grenade fire on Aug. 5, 2004, near the city of Najaf.

Faulstich's mother, wife and brother were on the Peninsula on Tuesday as the Army unveiled a completely overhauled building that will serve as a temporary home for injured soldiers as part of the Warrior Transition Unit.

"I don't think he would have thought he deserved it," said Faulstich's mother, Linda. "He was just doing his job. He loved it. He wanted to be an officer."

But Linda Faulstich said she hopes everyday citizens take special notice when they see the faces of the fallen.

"I try to believe that soldiers are appointed to be soldiers when they are born," she said. "When you see the face of a soldier who died in combat, you're seeing the face of freedom."

Wounded troops are already filling up the Faulstich building, which has 20 single rooms to support soldiers based at Eustis, Fort Monroe, Fort Story and Joint Forces Command. Last October the local program included 70 soldiers, but the Army beefed up medical and support staff and now 192 soldiers are working through injuries at the three-building complex. A second building nearby is next up for a full face lift.

About 21 soldiers have finished their rehabilitation and an additional 32 are set to enter the program in the near future. Some of the recovering soldiers live elsewhere on post with their families, while others live in surrounding communities. The building was once an on-base hotel and also served as office space before undergoing a $2.8 million overhaul to make it more hospitable for wounded soldiers, including adding an elevator.

The hallways have the faint smell of fresh paint and the distinct scent of new carpeting.

Pfc. Jason Netzley was helping run cargo convoys through southern Iraq earlier this year when he suddenly started having health problems. The 25-year-old was rushed into surgery in late April at Tallil Air Base in Iraq where military doctors found a nearly ruptured appendix and also had to remove some of his intestines.

Netzley came home in mid-May and eventually moved into the new quarters.

"It's a lot better then the old ones. It's not your normal barracks," Netzley said. "It's beautiful inside."

Because the combat zone surgery was his first time under a knife, Netzley said he worried about how his body would react and readjust. So far his rehab has included taking it easy and eating a lot of protein — which translates into a lot of steak dinners.

"You get to turn off for a while to rest and recover here," he said.

Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Bechtel said support staff and nurses work with patients on a wide range of issues, from making sure they make scheduled doctor's appointments to helping soldiers work on their resumes if they are considering leaving the Army.

"We're not browbeating anybody," Bechtel said. "We're just trying to keep them motivated."

To keep the recovering soldiers connected, each room is equipped with a television, DVD player, computer, phone and Internet access.

"How do you expect to get them out of their rooms?" quipped George Fiske, a World War II veteran touring the complex.

Fiske was an Army squad leader fighting in the mountains of Alsace-Lorraine between France and Germany when Nazis turned an 88 mm artillery gun on him and two other troops.

"We felt honored afterward that they would waste 12 of those expensive rounds on three of us," Fiske said of a gun usually fired against airplanes and tanks.

Shrapnel from the shells blasted a quarter-sized hole through Fiske's left calf and he was sent to England for a brief rehab stint before returning to the front lines. The 84-year-old said it's refreshing to see the Army improving its treatment for injured soldiers.

"It's nice to see how well they're taken care of," he said.

After the ceremony, Faulstich's mother said she was honored to see her son's name on a place where soldiers come to heal.

But, she added, "if I could trade 25 buildings named after him to have him back, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

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