Soldiers get a change of scenery

The Baltimore Sun

Spc. Curtis Turpin thought he would be out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in a month. That was four months ago. The wounded Iraq war veteran is still recovering from abdomen injuries received during an explosion in Baghdad.

In the meantime, his wife, Jennifer, has been holed up in a hotel on the hospital campus far from home in Kansas, where he serves in the National Guard.

For 31 Walter Reed patients and their families, doctor appointments and medical tests were replaced Friday with breezy conversations on a private cruise on the Severn River aboard a Watermark vessel, the 65-foot Harbor Queen.

"It's nice to get away from Walter Reed," said Turpin, who was injured twice while serving in Iraq. "After two weeks in the 'hotel,' the walls start to close in."

Lt. Col Robert Howe, who is the executive director of the U.S. Naval Sailing Association in Annapolis, was proud to sponsor the event. He suffered chest injuries while serving in a 1967 tour of Vietnam.

"I'm one of the fortunate guys," Howe said. "Many of these guys are not as fortunate as I was. The event is the Annapolis community's opportunity to express its appreciation for the service of these heroes who currently find themselves in the medical routine of recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center."

Jennifer Turpin, 32, said the hospital and other organizations offer different trips for patients and their families to give them a sense of normality.

"These trips provide scenery," she said. "And, we get to go see things and talk to people outside of the military."

Maj. Alea Morningstar, who served as an emergency room doctor in Iraq, said the outings are therapeutic for patients.

"They're huge stress relievers," Morningstar said. "They sleep better at night."

Morningstar, who was struck by shrapnel in her side and legs, now has a slight limp. She wore her pride for her service on her shirt, which read "Real women wear stripes."

Army Sgt. Christopher Gray and his wife, Christina, 33, enjoyed the historic sights from the upper deck of the 65-foot Harbor Queen while their four girls played. The military family was stationed in Germany. However, Gray plans to retire in less than a month and make Georgia their home. He appreciated the trip to Annapolis.

"I enjoy learning about the history of the area, and I enjoy boat rides," said Gray, who has been a patient at Walter Reed for a year.

Gray suffered a head injury after jumping out of plane during training, said his wife.

Some of the volunteers said the event was a good way to pay homage to the veterans.

"I thought it would be nice to get out and help out," said volunteer Josh Howe. "They've been through so much. I just have so much respect for them -- for the sacrifice that they've made ... I want to honor them."

When asked if he would go back to Iraq, Turpin paused.

"I don't have any problem going back into the military," Turpin said. "But if I do or not, it's not certain."

sharahn.boykin@baltsun.com

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