Guest Authors

A Whisper

LTC Sam Aldridge, Vascular Surgeon

Published: 16 April 2010
By: MAJ JF Sucher, MD

A singular sentence in reply to a common, simple question. A whisper from Afghanistan has returned a loud echo from Laconia, New Hampshire, a small town of 12,000 (40,000 in the summer) nestled amongst the glacial lakes in the center of the state.

Dr. Sam Aldridge has practiced peripheral vascular surgery in Laconia, NH for the past 15 years based solely on a gentlemen’s handshake with Tom Clairmont, CEO of Lakes Region General Hospital, who has been a stalwart supporter of Aldridge’s military commitment.

On January 15th, 2010 LTC Aldridge left for his third active duty deployment since joining the Army Reserves Medical Corps. Before leaving, Danielle Mostoller, the hospital’s PR representative, had LTC Aldridge promise to write regular updates that would be placed in the hospital’s email newsletter, which reaches 1600 people.

FOB Shank, Logar Province, Afghanistan

By February, 2010 LTC Aldridge was settled in with the 909th Forward Surgical Team (FST) in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank located in Logar Province, Afghanistan.

Soon after Aldridge’s “updates” hit the hospital newsletter, people began to respond. Danielle asked if there was anything they could send him. Maybe some care packages of snacks or books and such? LTC Aldridge, knowing that there were so many people around him that really did need something, responded with a simple request of socks for the Afghan soldiers and school supplies for the orphaned children of a nearby local village. A singular sentence. A simple whisper.

LTC Sam Aldridge sorts through boxes of socks and school supplies

Within a week, boxes started to come in. Tens of boxes, filled with school supplies, socks, clothes and snacks. Thirty boxes alone came from Danielle and her co-workers. Before he knew what was going on, the people in his community began to organize a concerted effort to send more supplies.

Local national day laborer builds new supply building for the 173D Airborne BSB Charlie Med Company

At first, LTC Aldridge could give supplies to the day laborers of FOB Shank, who were very thankful. One laborer had 7 brothers and sisters that benefited well from the generosity. But soon, he became nearly overwhelmed with the deluge of boxes.

SPC DeLeon of the 909th FST delivers became a torrent of school supplies and socks

Everett McLaughlin, a community activist and Aldridge’s next door neighbor, wrote letters to the 3 local newspapers and arranged for drop boxes to be placed around all the local high schools. Mr. McLaughlin sent over 30 boxes of supplies personally.

Team members from the 909th pitch in to help LTC Aldridge (1st on left) sort through the boxes

Then, as a testament to the personal character of Dr. Aldridge, his self-termed “human network” began to take hold. Several thousand dollars began to pour in to pay for shipping.  Hundreds of boxes began to arrive from the far ends of our nations shores. They came from New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and California.

LTC Sam Aldridge (left) and CPT Chad Zielinski (right) stand outside the 909th FST with a new arrival of boxes

LTC Aldridge then teamed up with FOB Shank’s Chaplain, CPT Chad Zielinski as well as the 173D Airborne’s Alpha Company, and Civil Affairs.  The civil affairs group was able to channel the bulk of supplies to the local villages with the 173D Alpha company providing the movement and security. They delivered socks, clothing and school supplies. They even built soccer goals out of angle iron and delivered those to the children (who incidentally love to play soccer).

CPT Zielinski with SGT Flores flying out on a CH-47 Chinook to deliver school supplies to local village children *

Father “Z” as he is known to us makes personal trips out to the surrounding smaller FOBs and Combat Outposts (COPs) to see the troops and provide them with spiritual comfort.

CPT Zielinski (2nd from left) and his spiritual team at FOB Airborne *

CPT Zielinski (3rd from left) visits with sniper team at an observation post somewhere above 10,000 feet *

Father 'Z' shoots a picture while trudging through mud to get to a village in the Logar Province, Afghanistan *

Once Father "Z" has provided for our troops, he then sets out to provide for the children of the local villages. He slogs through the mud, personally carrying the supplies.

Just outside a village in Logar Province, Afghanistan *

Entering village in Logar Province, Afghanistan *

Villagers begin to come out to see the new arrivals *

Father 'Z' meets with village leader to arrange for giving out supplies *

Village boy receiving school supplies and clothing - Logar Province, Afghanistan *

Village boy with new jeans and a backpack full of school supplies - Logar Province, Afghanistan *

Village boys with the school supplies and clothing - Logar Province, Afghanistan *

Over 102 boxes of school supplies and more than 3,000 socks have been delivered to the children of the villages in the Logar Province. They were delivered by Father Zielinski, his team, and the soldiers of the 173D Airborne Civil Affairs unit. All of this because one man sent a whisper back home to a community of family, friends and co-workers who responded with great passion.

LTC Aldridge knows that he is fortunate to have such incredible support. Support from his family, his hospital, his partners and his great community of Laconia, NH.  It is simply impossible for the Reserve forces of the U.S. military to function without the support of the people back home. It is abundantly clear that for every one of us here, there are 100’s of you back home that make sacrifices to ensure all runs as smooth as possible while we’re away.

I asked LTC Aldridge if he had a message for those of you back home. In his typical mix of back home folksiness and cerebral intelligence, he provided me with two quotes off the cuff:

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” – Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice Act 5, scene 1

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Finally, as I wrapped up my discussion with Sam, I saw the brief moment of his guard being lowered. He felt the impact of those quotes – knowing that his whisper echoed back from his community as a loud voice more than willing to give to such a terribly impoverished nation.

* Photos provided courtesy of CPT Chad Zielinski, USAF Chaplain.


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