Mary Ann Phillips has made it her personal mission to support wounded soldiers and their families.
American troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are usually sent to the U.S. Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Germany. There, they receive immediate care before being sent to a medical facility in the United States.
They also receive a visit from Mary Ann Phillips. For the past six years, she's made the four hour drive from her home in Munich to Landstuhl several times a month, spending four or five days each time, delivering gifts, sitting by the soldiers' bedsides and connecting them with their families back home.
"There are families who feel like it's just nice for them to have a contact with someone outside of the military community, outside of the medical people that can be kind of a stand-in mom for them," says Phillips, "Just to go and visit your guy and say 'hi' and give feedback to Mom about how he seems to be in good spirits and stuff like that."
Phillips, who has lived in Germany since 1989, is a Soldier's Angel. When she first joined the military support organization in 2004, she adopted soldiers - sending them letters and packages each month to make sure they knew someone was thinking of them.
"That's probably the biggest program at Soldier's Angels in terms of numbers. Soldiers and marines and airmen submit themselves into our database for adoption, so they can get extra mail and support when they are deployed," says Phillips. "Then there are people who sign up to be angels and make a commitment to send a letter a week and a little care package once a month."
But her visits to Landstuhl are a more frequent personal commitment that both soldiers and their families appreciate.
Making a difference
"I'm thinking of one soldier who was badly injured, not conscious while he was here in Germany. When he got hurt, his mom back in the States contacted us," says Phillips. "So I checked on him. It meant a lot to his mother for me to go visit him in the Intensive Care unit, to call her from his room. It was very, very hard. She couldn't hear his voice. So I'd just sit in the room and call her and say, 'O.K. I'm sitting down here. I'm holding his hand right now while I'm talking to you.' I'd put the phone to his ear so she could say goodnight to him. It just made her feel a little bit closer to him for those couple of days while he was here."
Since Phillips began her hospital visits, 15 other Soldier's Angels have joined her program. Unlike military doctors and chaplains, the role of the Angels is not to update families about the medical conditions of their loved ones, but rather to provide personal support.
"A very dear friend of mine who is a Gold Star father [his son was killed in battle], his son's unit deployed again a couple of years later. One of their soldiers was very seriously injured. He asked me to contact that soldier's wife. I'm not sure what I talked about with this wife on the phone for those many hours, but we spent hours, where I just sat in the room with him and just talked to her."
The time Phillips spends at the bedside of wounded or dying soldiers, she says, has taught her a lot about life, courage and compassion.
"It's given me a lot of perspective on my own problems and what's important in life. Another thing I've learned is the bond between these guys and their group, the guys they're fighting with. The first thing that any guy wants to know about if he regains consciousness here in Germany is about the other guys. He never says, 'What happened to me?' Or 'Oh my God, my legs are gone.' It is absolutely incredible, but time after time, the first thing they ask is about their friends."
Mary Ann Phillips efforts were recognized by President Barack Obama. She was honored by the White House with the 2010 Presidential Citizens Medal for putting her patriotism into action by spending countless hours caring for wounded soldiers and their families.