Ravens visit injured troops

The way Capt. Andras Marton tells it, he got hurt the night before his Super Bowl.

Marton, a member of the 101st Airborne (known popularly as the Screaming Eagles), was in a tent in Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait on the night of March 23, eagerly anticipating the beginning of the ground invasion into Iraq, when death looked him in the face.

Marton was one of 16 soldiers injured, including two who died, when grenades were rolled into the tent, allegedly by a fellow soldier, and detonated. He suffered shrapnel wounds from his shoulders to his ankles, but survived.

Nearly four weeks later, a mending Marton was in great spirits when Baltimore Ravens players, cheerleaders and executives visited him at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., because they brought with them something of great symbolic significance.

Their Super Bowl trophy.

“When you’re a little boy, you always dream about holding one of these,” Marton gushed, grinning from ear to ear. “To spin off the Super Bowl reference, I was hurt the night before the big game, the invasion.”

Marton was one of the dozens of injured military personnel the Ravens visited at both Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital on Thursday. Team President David Modell was the first to shake every hand, but the veterans’ faces truly lit up when they held the Vince Lombardi Trophy and met the players and cheerleaders.

Seven Ravens players made the trip down to Washington, but none traveled farther than Todd Heap. The Pro Bowl tight end caught the overnight flight from Arizona on Wednesday, and then jumped right back on a plane Thursday evening to go home for the holiday weekend.

Heap said a couple of cross-country flights was the least he could do to show his deep support and gratitude for the servicemen and women.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” Heap said. “We had an opportunity to get a glimpse at what our troops got into over there. After seeing that, you can tell we really take for granted the freedoms and luxuries we have everyday.”

Kicker Matt Stover, linebacker Edgerton Hartwell, defensive linemen Joe Salave’a and Riddick Parker, punter Dave Zastudil and offensive tackle Damion Cook also visited the hospital.

The Ravens, accompanied by six cheerleaders, arrived at Walter Reed around 1 p.m. and split into two groups. They were led from room to room, greeting whoever wanted company.

There are more than 50 injured Army and Marine troops at Walter Reed, including freed prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, who was not available for visitors.

Baltimore’s Pfc. Donald Robert Schaefer, who sustained AK-47 gunshots to the chest while saving an Atlanta journalist, was as energetic as possible considering that he had just undergone surgery two hours earlier.

Schaefer’s lung had collapsed and was infected. Doctors believe he’s going to be all right but he was a little groggy for his visitors.

Not so, for Lance Cpl. O.J. Santamaria of Daly City, Calif., who was recovering from a shoulder injury. He was ecstatic about being able to go home in the coming days.

But it’s not like his time in Bethesda was boring. Back on April 11, he was one of two Marines officially sworn in as U.S. citizens in front of President Bush.

“He cried and said that he was proud of us,” Santamaria said.

Some Ravens players had personal connections to the armed services. Cook said his uncle is in Iraq, while Hartwell’s father was a Marine in Vietnam.

“They know that we support them and love what they’re doing for us,” Stover said. “What the youth of this country has forgotten is that we have to continue to fight for our freedom. Everyone should have the right to freedom.

“I’m behind President Bush the whole way,” Stover added. “What is war? Is it ever perfect? No. But we’re doing the best we can so my kids can enjoy peace and prosperity.”

Those words bring peace of mind to the nation’s soldiers, like Spc. Jason Poudrier.

His unit was just 19 miles southeast of Baghdad when an artillery round landed on a Humvee a half-football field away. He still caught a shrapnel blast through his leg.

“It’s awesome to see the support of all these people back home,” Poudrier said. “I’m feeling all right. I’m ready to get out of here. I’m better than a lot of other guys still out there. This was my way to serve our country.”

This story first appeared on the Baltimore Ravens’ official Web site, http://www.baltimoreravens.com.

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