News: Inspired soldiers honors friend with gift to children
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Sgt. Merlin German was a 22-year-old Marine from Manhattan, N.Y. He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Detachment, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. His life was cut short on April 11, 2008, as a result of injuries sustained while conducting combat operations in Iraq in February 2005.
Capt. Karla Frey, officer in charge of the Joint Visitor Bureau for the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, met German while she volunteered at the burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, in 2005. When she met German and his family, they invited her to come back and visit. She would visit every day after that. German had sustained burns that covered more than 97 percent of his body.
“He was one of the strongest people I have ever met,” said Frey. “He never complained about his pain, never wanted people to feel sorry for him, and he always had a positive attitude. He never doubted the fact that one day he would walk out of the hospital.”
German motivated Frey, who is currently deployed to Kosovo with the Multinational Battle Group- East, as part of the NATO peacekeeping mission there. She refers to him as “my little angel” and asked him to be her son’s godfather, knowing that German could teach him about having courage and perseverance. She said German was a person who left a lasting impact on her, and his mother continues to inspire and mentor her.
“I have never met anyone who was so courageous, so kind, so compassionate and so thankful to be alive even in his circumstances,” she said. “I never felt sorry for Merlin, he never felt sorry for himself. To sacrifice as much as he did because he loved his country and to be able to be at peace with it, and not only not complain about pain, but to motivate others, he was inspiring.”
Frey wanted to do something in honor of her friend, to inspire others. In the past she sent flowers, ran a 10K that was held in his honor, and set up a booth that advertised “Merlin’s Miracles.” The charity, which was founded shortly before the Marine’s death, helps child burn victims. Frey said he always wanted to help children. He loved being around kids and he didn’t want other children to have to go through the hardships of being seen as different.
Frey, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., worked on setting up a 5K warrior run on Camp Bondsteel on the anniversary of his death - to raise money in his honor to do just that: help more children.
She worked with the legal team to set up the event as a fundraiser, raising over $1,500 that is being donated to the Arthur C. Luf Children’s Burn Camp. Merlin’s passion to help child burn victims pointed Frey towards this camp, which is located in Union, Conn. Forty five people donated to the cause with 25 taking part in the run.
Staff Sgt. Pete Morrison, noncommissioned officer in charge for the 121st Public Affairs Detachment, helped Frey design the T-shirts for the event. Morrison has volunteered with the burn camps since becoming a firefighter for the city of the Portland, Maine, in 2005. He has worked with the program in Maine and attended the summer camp in Connecticut for the last six years.
Morrison said that the camp is a one week summer retreat at a Boy Scout camp in Union, Conn. During this week, which is volunteer driven and free for the families, kids get to be kids. He said the kids, all aged between seven and 17, don’t have to try to hide their scars, or worry about what other people think.
“Just like any other summer camp, they participate in archery, waterfront activities, a state of the art ropes course,” he said. “They have camp fires, make s’mores and act like kids.”
The weeklong activities are provided at no cost to the 70-80 kids that attend. Like Frey, Morrison finds inspiration in these kids who have found ways to continue to live their lives despite having been burned. Whether the burn was severe or minor, they have had to deal with extraordinary pain, and have to live with that for the rest of their lives, emotionally and physically. The camp gives them a chance to be themselves, without fear of looking different. They are surrounded by friends who have gone through similar experiences, all bonded by fire.
“They haven’t given up, though,” said Morrison, a native of Portland, Maine. “They find a way to be happy these camps give them the chance to be happy with other kids who have shared experiences. They teach me more about life and resiliency in two weeks than I get all year. Despite the tragedy and pain these kids have endured, they are always thankful, and they are always brave.”
The donations raised by Frey and the runners who supported the event will go towards continuing to make this camp a rewarding experience for the campers. The Atlantic Regional Firefighters Burn Foundation is comprised of camp counselors who know the kids personally and really strive to ensure they are receiving the best possible experience from the camp, said Morrison.
Donations go directly toward activities such as the paintball course and waterslide rentals. The camp also tries to make sure that the campers have everything that they will need for the week. Some kids may not have enough money for a sleeping bag, or extra towels, so there is money in case a need arises.
“All of the money goes right back to the kids and the board members go through a very thoughtful process on how to spend the donations wisely,” said Morrison.
Running a camp this size is pricey, and the donations help maintain the upkeep with food, vendors, supplies.
“Taking away all worries in a kid who has nothing but worry, is all part of why this is so special,” he said. “That money gives a kid at the very least, one week of normalcy.”