Teenager Makes Soldiers' Care His Mission
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Ian S. Wilson, an eighth-grader at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church, wanted an answer to this question: "If my brother was hurt, what would happen to him?"
Army Sgt. Gordon Hamm, 23, Ian's brother, is in Iraq serving with the 82nd Airborne Division. Ian's concern was fired by reports this year of poor long-term treatment given to soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
For Ian, the reports hit home. "He was very angered about it, and he immediately made the connection with his brother in Iraq," said David Wilson, Ian's father.
The 13-year-old Fairfax County boy took his question to the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill:
"What would happen to my brother should he be injured in Iraq?" Ian asked. "Would he come back and not receive the proper treatment he deserves? And who would take care of his family -- his wife and three children?"
That worry was the genesis of "When the Boys Come Home: The Controversy at Walter Reed," a video produced by Ian. This month, the video won a first prize in a national documentary competition sponsored by C-SPAN in which middle and high school students were asked to produce videos examining political topics.
To make his video, Ian borrowed his father's camera and traveled to Washington, riding on Metro or catching rides with his parents. He did stand-ups in front of the White House, the Capitol, the National Archives and the Washington Monument.
Ian's video, which borrows its title and includes music from the song "Bring the Boys Back Home" by Pink Floyd, Ian's favorite band, notes that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left 25,000 soldiers injured. "At least our warriors get the best health care, right?" it asks. "Right?"
The video goes on to show reports in newspapers and on television about poor living conditions for some soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed and tells how many face a bureaucratic morass as they try to navigate the military health-care system.
Ian sent e-mails or made phone calls to the offices of the president, the vice president, Congress, the Defense Department and Walter Reed to ask what was being done. "But I got no answers whatsoever," he notes in the video.
"He was surprised that people would completely ignore him," his father said. But Ian kept digging.
Finally, a staffer in the office of Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) responded and gave Ian documents collected by a House oversight committee examining the problems at Walter Reed.