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Anne Woods

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Wounded Warriors Taught My Son A Lesson In Diversity

Posted: 03/28/2012 8:15 am

Diversity is not an afterthought in my family. Married to a biracial man for many years, diversity is a focus in many of our decisions. As a military family, we moved around the globe, making it easy to mingle with people from different races, cultures and countries. Our daughter truly did not identify people by their skin color. They were just people.

A few years into the current conflicts, we moved to a civilian community. A short time after the move, the temporary home became permanent with the end of my marriage. My children's exposure to the military was now limited to spring breaks and summers with Dad. Slowly they transitioned from military brats to suburban kids.

This change has resulted in a lack of diversity for my kids. It has nothing to do with race or religion -- we made sure to buy in a racially diverse neighborhood. However, the lack of exposure to our military, post-conflict, became clear to me this past weekend.

On a Saturday morning in a nearby Texas city, a bike tour was held. A recumbent bike was donated to a wounded service member and he, his wife, and a few more of us from Hope For The Warriors attended. I was excited to bring my kids to the event.

I should set the stage. My son Victor is 11 years old and is autistic -- very high functioning. That means that he is completely verbal, however, does not always understand social situations. What happened next was inevitable.

"Mom, something is strange about that man. He doesn't have an arm."

This was said a few feet away from a Marine, a single-arm amputee, and our adaptive equipment specialist, Rick, a single leg amputee.

I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and replied. I decided the best route was to be honest and share that "yes, that Marine lost his arm in Afghanistan and Rick lost his leg in a motorcycle accident." I added that both would be competing in the bike tour that morning. Victor watched the two men work on the handcycle together, replacing a broken chain.

My son quickly moved on to other thoughts, his game system. But I remained embarrassed. I count the moment as my failure -- specifically where my job as a parent intersects with my job working with wounded service members. I have worked for an organization that assists wounded service members for more than two years. Somehow, I neglected to teach my own children the important lessons that I was learning myself.

We live in a diverse world. Nearly one thousand service members are now amputees as a result of the current conflicts. These men and women, and those who have lost limbs from other means do not sit quietly in their wheelchairs. They run, they bike, they play, and they enjoy their life with friends and family.

By just attending the race that morning and watching, both of my kids learned a valuable lesson. They learned that these men were capable of a great deal, regardless of their injuries.

After the bike tour, Rick sat in his handcycle and asked Victor to bring his wheelchair over to him. Victor happily wheeled the chair over and watched as Rick switched from handcycle to wheelchair. By this time, Rick was no longer a man missing a leg and the Marine was no longer identified as missing an arm. They were just two men who had enjoyed a bike race that morning.

Lesson learned.