From Baghdad to rehab

Saturday, April 30, 2005

EXETER, Pa. -- The U.S. military activated two armored regiments of the Pennsylvania National Guard last year and moved several Pride Mobility employees from the front lines of wheelchair and scooter production to the front lines of the war in Iraq. When that happened, Dan Meuser knew his e-mail in-box could very well carry dire news about his company's human resources.
So the president of Pride Mobility Products had no idea what to expect when he opened an e-mail from one of his employees in the war zone last month.
"He wanted scooter cup holders, a dozen of them for his unit's Humvees," Meuser said. "After I told him we could send them, he wanted to know how much they'd be."
In Late March, Pride welcomed home four employees from the Gulf. Three served in Iraq. One served in Kuwait. None saw combat, but all of them saw packages coming in from their stateside workplace with, among other necessities, durable medical equipment like cupholders.
"I got a Synergy cushion to use in the Humvee," said Matt Kearns, a Pride employee who served in Kuwait.
Although Paul DePrimo and Glenn Frantz trained as tank personnel in the Guard, the U.S. command gave them a crash course in military police tactics for their missions in the Gulf. DePrimo worked in Bagdhad for a survey group that was looking for weapons of mass destruction. Frantz was a senior operations sergeant at a high-value detention facility.
Like soldiers all over the zone, they feared the suicidally crazy drivers that haunted their days. They hated weather that cranked up to 140 degrees, and they missed their families.
None of the work they did in Iraq is similar to the work they do at Pride, where two men work in information technology and one man works on a scooter production line. And nowhere in Iraq did they see durable medical equipment.
"It's a 3rd world country. There are literally donkey carts," said DiPrimo. "Here, someone's poor if they only have one car and no cable. Over there, their houses are made of stacked rocks and boards."