A U.S. military hospital in Germany that helped some 100 Canadian soldiers recover from injuries suffered in Afghanistan was honoured for its superb care by Canada's top soldier on Wednesday.
Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff, presented the Canadian Forces Unit
Commendation to the Landstuhl Regional Medial Center in western Germany to recognize their "absolutely incredible" work on the wounded Canadians.
More than 100 wounded Canadian have passed through Landstuhl since Canada's involvement in Afghanistan began in 2002. Hillier said he has spoken to nearly all of them.
"The one thing that came from everyone was not only the incredible care they got here, but the compassion with which it was delivered," Hillier said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press.
"And I think that's what struck all of us: care plus compassion added up to something truly deserving of recognition."
The commendation is a group award for military units that go above and beyond the call of duty. Recipients get a framed gold-embossed scroll, a 12-sided gold-coloured medallion and a special commemorative flag.
"We reserved the Canadian Forces Unit Commendation to identify those units that have really performed heroically, that have really performed superbly in the in the service of Canada," Hillier said.
Hillier also presented Landstuhl Fisher House - a residence that provides "a home away from home" for wounded soldiers and their families - with the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service.
The medallion honours outstanding service by non-military personnel. This is the first time it's been awarded to a non-Canadian entity.
Fisher House, across the street from the hospital, has 19 rooms split between two buildings that have amenities like a kitchens, computers, phones and a laundromat. It enables families to be close to their injured loved ones until they're well enough to return to Canada.
Three soldiers who were evacuated to Landstuhl after a January suicide bombing were on hand for the ceremony. Master Cpl. Paul Franklin, Cpl. Jeffrey Bailey and Pte. William Salikin presented a donation of $82,000 to Landstuhl Fisher House.
Franklin, of Edmonton, lost both legs in the attack which killed Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry.
He recalls lying wounded in Afghanistan with the stench of charred flesh and diesel in the air. The next thing he remembered was being in Landstuhl's intensive care unit, yearning to see his family.
"You're laying there, in a sense dying, and you feel it's the end of the world. Then you look over to see your family there and it's not something you'd ever expect," said Franklin. "All of a sudden - bam - and I'm with my family and it was a very exciting moment because I didn't expect my family to be there so quick."
Franklin now has prosthetic limbs and walks with a cane. He was flown back to Landstuhl, in the rolling hills of western Germany, for Wednesday's ceremony. "I wouldn't be alive without these guys' efforts," he said. "There's no way I'd be walking today."
Fisher House, a U.S. organization that supports military families worldwide, is supported by volunteer donations.
Franklin's wife, Audra, held a gala dinner in Edmonton last month to raise money for Fisher House and hopes to register it as a Canadian charity. Eventually she'd like to set up branches of Fisher House across Canada to support soldiers' families as they recover back home in Canada.
"Their support is invaluable. Without it, our son Simon couldn't have been close to his father after he was injured," she said last month. She said Fisher House staff took her mother, her son and herself in to see Franklin. American families in Landstuhl cooked meals and did laundry for the family.
Wednesday's award presentation was an emotional one for the three soldiers and their families, Hillier said.
"They're back to a scene that was very traumatic when they came through. But they're also back with a group of folks that cared for them so well. It's been an emotional day, but a powerful, inspiring one."
Canada has about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
"We're able to do the tough job that we do in Afghanistan with confidence knowing that we can get the best care in the world here," Hillier said.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski