It started with a blue, red and white ribbon. Every day a yellow ribbon was added for each of the two former students and glued to the display, counting the number of days since their deployment. Nursing Department Chairperson Anne Smeglin glues each yellow ribbon with a prayer to the display set up by the nursing faculty to honor Robert Bromley, 23, and Timothy Griswold, 24, who were deployed to Iraq in the middle of their nursing education.
Like many 18-year-olds, they signed up for the military to help pay for college.
“Another reason was patriotism. After 9-11 happened, I wanted to help our country,” Griswold said in an e-mail.
However, they did not anticipate having to leave in the middle of their education.
“I was angry that I had to stop school to go overseas and get thrown into a war zone and expected to perform as a nurse for soldiers and the enemy side-by-side in our military hospitals,” Bromley stated in an e-mail from Iraq.
They entered the Spring 2007 believing they would have time to at least finish that semester; but they kept being called to attend training and missed most their classes.
“I dropped my classes and waited for May to come,” Griswold wrote.
A grand farewell
Upon hearing that their students were being deployed, the nursing faculty knew they had to do something special for these two. When they returned to Vermont after one of their training trips, Smeglin, invited them to a class to see their classmates once again.
When they came, they were surprised with a mini celebration that Castleton President Dave Wolk attended. They were presented with journals from classmates and professors who wrote special notes to them and they were told about the yellow ribbon display.
“It makes me feel very appreciated, and very missed,” Griswold said.
“They [the lockers] let me know that people back home haven’t forgotten about people like me. That is a great fear of many of the soldiers here,” he said.
Along with the ribbons, pictures and e-mails from the two soldiers are put up on the lockers outside the nursing department’s office.
“We wanted to help them remember their time at Castleton and remind them they are being remembered and thought of,” said Smeglin, who keeps the half-full Ziploc bag of small yellow ribbons in her office.
Their classmates have graduated, but they also appreciate the display, especially the e-mails.
“It’s nice to have updates and a constant reminder of the kind of guys they are,” Karen Collette said.
Heidi Kapusta agreed, describing them as kind hearted and “good old homeboys” who are very dedicated to the service.
Life in Iraq
While in Iraq, Griswold works in intensive care in a field hospital. He has worked on Iraqis as well as Americans. Civilians, police, and soldiers have been brought to him with a lot of heart and respiratory problems, but others are brought in another state.
“I’m mostly working with people who got blown up,” Griswold said.
Despite the sometimes emotionally hard and grotesque work, Griswold finds a positive aspect of working in Iraq.
“We’re helping the people, really touching their hearts and lives,” Griswold said smiling. “Iraqis are grateful to get the care we’re offering them.”
The cases sometimes work their way into the e-mails, impressing Smeglin.
“They are dealing with very high level interventions, trauma and critical care,” Smeglin said.
Bromley found that working in the field is nothing like what is found in training.
“I don’t think anything can prepare you for what you see over here,” he said. “The best thing Castleton offered me was just to make new friends and enjoy life before I came into Iraq.”
In his work, he has met “many, many nice civilians injured by U.S. soldiers and terrorists and they are all good people,” Bromley said, stressing that Iraq is not full of “evil people” as many in America think.
Between offers of pumpkin bread and requests for photos, Griswold visited with his former professors and examined the yellow ribbon display.
During his week vacation, he came to Castleton to visit the nursing department and became the object of much fanfare.
“It’s exciting,” Griswold said about being back, laughing lightly at the attention he received.
As the nursing professors surrounded Griswold as he studied the display, Smeglin stopped a passerby to introduce Griswold to one of his future classmates when he hopes to return with Bromley to the program in the fall of 2008.
After his initial reaction to leave his education for overseas, Bromley came to realize that he had “an excellent opportunity to serve our country and learn about one of the oldest cultures and locations on the planet.”
Bromley also befriended many of the people and patients in Iraq.
“The Iraqi people are much like us Americans, they love to have fun and socialize and are always willing to make new friends,” Bromley said. “If I learn nothing else from this war, it is that a war with a country is not necessarily a war with the people in that country.