On November 9, U.S. Representative Colonel Brad Wenstrup spoke to the McNicholas student body and staff as part of the annual Veterans Day program. After sophomore Andy Farmer’s rendition of the national anthem, Wenstrup began the assembly by talking about how he wanted to change up his normal Veterans Day talk by speaking on what happens on the front lines of the medical and humane side of war.
Working as a combat surgeon, specifically as the Chief of Surgery at Abu Ghraib Prison Hospital in Iraq, Wenstrup and his team found themselves caring for not only their own troops, but civilians and enemy soldiers as well. He said they provided the same quality of care to the enemy, even in moments where the person being cared for had just been fighting against American soldiers. Wenstrup said, “Same care for everyone… right thing to do if you were an American or the enemy.” He later said, “Troops had to go from being hawks to doves.”
“It was the worst thing I had to do, but the best thing I ever got to do because of the people I served with. The person beside you is your brother or sister.” He led a team of fifteen and they were all from different backgrounds and ethnicities, just like those they served and cared for. “Race doesn’t matter… all one family wearing the same clothes, there as a team,” Wenstrup said about his time in Iraq.
He added that they were there with the goal of winning over the hearts and minds of the people who did not know them. “Winning over people’s hearts takes time,” Wenstrup said, “But every time there’s something bad, there’s an opportunity to do something good.
The Colonel spoke on a time during his tour in Iraq where he and his team were hastily brought a four-month old girl who was too sick and whose issues were too complicated for the local medics to adequately take care of. They did not know how to help this girl, so Wenstrup and his team were left with the duty of saving this young civilian life. After they seemingly fixed the problem and saved the child, they were left wondering why she was still having diarrhea. They discovered that the girl was rejecting the mother’s milk and came to the conclusion that they needed gluten free baby formula. The only problem was that this was not readily available where they were located in this prison hospital. The American troops stationed there wasted no time in working to pull together $300 of their own money in half an hour for this Iraqi girl who they did not even know. “That’s who we are as Americans,” Wenstrup said of this selfless generosity.
As a thank you to Wenstrup for his lifesaving work, the girl’s father, Abdul, brought him a sword he received on his Hajj to Mecca and was insistent on Wenstrup having it.
Reflecting on this moment and the work of all veterans, Wenstrup cited a Roberto Clemente message as a challenge to everyone by saying, “If you have the chance to make life better for others and fail to do so, you’re wasting your time on this earth.”