Thanks to the advancements in battlefield medicine and body armor, fully 90 percent of the troops who are wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan survive hits from gunfire or explosives that would have killed soldiers in previous conflicts. The nature of the enemy's explosives, however, is causing some troops to undergo amputations of an arm or a leg. Most of them are sent to Walter Reed to be fitted with prostheses and to rehabilitate.
Walter Reed has been caring for America's wounded heroes since World War I. It is named in honor of Maj. Walter Reed, who conducted groundbreaking research on yellow fever. His discoveries enabled workers to survive in the tropical climate and complete work on the Panama Canal.
Not only do the wounded go to Walter Reed, but the hospital has sent more than 200 of its personnel into the field in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, the medical staff at Walter Reed is perfecting the ability of amputees to return to active duty service.
That standard of commitment was set by Navy diver Carl Brashear, who while serving on the USS Hoist (ARS-40) in 1966, was injured so severely that his left leg had to be amputated. Brashear refused to give in to demands for his retirement, was fitted with a prosthesis and went on to make history, continue diving and eventually retire with the prestigious titles of master diver and master chief.
Thanks in large measure to the medical professionals at Walter Reed, such stories are becoming the norm, not the exception.
Col. Jonathan Jaffin, commander of the Walter Reed Health Care System, said of the soldiers, "We view these patients as world-class athletes, (and) our goal is to restore them to world-class status."
Major advancements in the field of prosthetics are being made at Walter Reed. "We are receiving some of the first systems available in the world," says Joseph Miller, Walter Reed's chief prosthetist. One of those is the C-Leg system, which houses a computer system in the knee that responds to movement and can make adjustments up to 50 times a second.
Millions of dollars are being invested to update and expand Walter Reed's Amputee Center to continue to improve the way these soldiers are taught to walk, climb stairs or ride a bike with their new leg.
We Americans owe a great debt of gratitude to our troops who are fighting to protect us. We also owe a great deal of thanks to the military personnel, medical professionals, doctors, nurses, administrators and volunteers who are caring for our wounded heroes in these two facilities, and all the medical and rehab facilities our wounded heroes visit along their way.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.