Editor's note-The following article is a look at Vermont Sgt. First Class Tom Stone of Norwich. The Army medic died March 28, 2006, while serving the nation in the international war against terrorism. Article writer Capt. Roosevelt and the late Sgt. Stone were members of Task Force Mountain.
Very few people can say that they have walked around the world. Even fewer can say they have treated over 100 men, women and children on a daily basis in a third world country out of an 8 feet by 20 feet shipping container for weeks on end while in a combat zone.
I first met Sgt. First Class Tom Stone about four years ago while working at Camp Johnson in Vermont. He approached me about what he could do to serve full-time in the Vermont Army National Guard again. Stone had worked full-time for the Mountain Warfare School as a medic about eight years prior to our meeting. He left that position when he decided to walk around the world. At that time I was not in a position to assist him, but luckily, this was not the last time we met. Our paths crossed many times and it became evident to me that he was extremely proficient in everything he set forth to accomplish.
In May 2003, Stone deployed to serve with the 124th Regional Training Institute in Afghanistan. I saw him at the deployment ceremony and wished him luck. He seemed rather excited to be going and mentioned that he had not been through Afghanistan during his walk around the world. Stone completed a full tour of duty with the 124th and then volunteered to stay with Task Force Mountain, the unit I deployed with to Afghanistan.
Stone immediately deployed forward to Mazar-e-Sharif with a team of Task Force Mountain soldiers assigned to serve as mentors to the Afghan National Army who were supporting the police force and watching over two weapons sites where demilitarized leaders turned in weapons.
Stone established an operation in a small shipping container where he supervised medical staff from the ANA. He also provided support on combat presence patrols. After about a month, Stone returned home to Vermont for a well-deserved rest. In the meantime, my team prepared to move to Mazar and replace another Task Force Mountain team in that location.
Stone joined my team upon his return and went about his job without bringing much attention to himself. He opened the clinic where ANA medics and doctors saw patients, made sure the ANA personnel were following the proper procedures and answered questions as they arose. Our team had daily meetings at which Stone talked about the number of patients he anticipated and the numbers started at around 50. Within days, he reported numbers closer to 150. Our team became very interested in the work Stone was doing and made a point to observe his valiant efforts on a daily basis.
Each day a line outside his small shipping container began forming around 7 a.m. Stone recognized that the earlier the doors opened, the less of a rush they had throughout the day. So Stone arrived at his make-shift clinic at 6:30 a.m. to ensure that everything was in place before the masses arrived. Daily he reported at our 8 a.m. meeting as to how many patients his clinic had already seen. By about his fourth week with us, Stone was seeing around 175 people a day. The doctors and medics rotated throughout the day, but Stone remained present practically every minute the doors were open.
When the day was done, usually around 2 p.m., Stone did not stop. He updated us on issues of concern and proposed solutions. He even coordinated trips into town to buy much needed medications and supplies.
The people that visited the clinic came from all around; some walked more than 10 miles to receive medical attention from the clinic.
I asked one man waiting for his daughter to be seen why he didn't find someone closer to his village - an hour away by foot.
"We can't get this kind of care anywhere near us," was interpreted to me. "The doctors in my town are not trained like this and don't know what they are doing."
When I first started working with Stone I noticed he was wearing a baseball cap with a colorful butterfly on it. I corrected him for being out of uniform.
"But Sir" said Stone, "the butterfly distracts the children while I work on them."
That was all he had to say.
Aside from being an outstanding medic, Stone is a skilled infantryman. When he conducts battle drills with the ANA, he turns into a fierce fighting soldier.
"You're killing my men," Stone yelled one afternoon while the base conducted a defense drill. The yell was heard over all the noise, including generators and truck engines. Stone trained the ANA in base defense tactics as passionately as he managed the clinic.
I spoke with him about walking around the world. It took him eight years.
"People told me it would take four years to do it," Stone said. "I planned on six and it turned into eight, I have always been a little slow."
But Stone, who was born and raised in Vermont, requested to stay on longer with Task Force Mountain. Due to restrictions on the length of time service members can be deployed, he had to return to Vermont in the late spring of 2006. Sadly, he never made it home. He was killed March 28 as a result of a mortar attack during a skirmish in Lashkagar, Afghanistan.
There is no telling how many lives Stone saved as a result of that little clinic; he represented the finest spirit of veterans everywhere with his selfless service to the nation.
He will be remembered this Memorial Day.