An army of one family Military is tradition with Weydert sisters By Randy Dockendorf and
Yankton Media, Inc. Is Glenda Walker proud of her daughter, Danielle? Naturally, the Vermillion woman quickly says. But she's also quick to point out that she holds all of her children in equal esteem. And it's not just because they are her kids. It's for something that's bigger than that. It's for their service, their dedication, their commitment to the United States. Normally, 1st Lt. Danielle (Dani) Weydert Schaaf cares for wounded warriors as an Army nurse at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. But two weeks ago, the Vermillion native led a tour of the center for the commander in chief. President Barack Obama paid bedside visits with U.S. and coalition service members as well as joining outpatients at the USO Warrior Center. Along the way, he pinned on six Purple Hearts honoring service members injured in Afghanistan and Iraq. Leading the president during his visit to an in-patient ward was Dani, who said his impact on the wounded warriors was visibly noticeable. "He was so kind to all the soldiers and so sincere, and he really took their stories and what they were saying personally," she said. "It really meant a lot to the soldiers. You could just tell on their faces they were very impressed. He was happy to see them, and they were happy to see him." The 24-year-old nurse said she shared those feelings at the chance of meeting and escorting the commander in chief. "It was an honor. It was a complete honor to see him," Dani said. "He welcomed the staff and was so happy to see everyone. It was incredible." Dani, a Vermillion High School graduate, is the daughter of Glenda and John Walker of Vermillion and Paula and Nick Weydert of Yankton. Schaaf earned a bachelors degree in nursing from Creighton University in Omaha, NE. She has served nearly two years as an Army nurse at the medical center in Landstuhl, Germany, located near Ramstein Air Force Base. A week after President Obama's visit, Dani said she still remains stunned that she was chosen to escort the commander in chief. "I am not sure how I was selected to give President Obama a tour of our ward, but I was very honored," she said in an e-mail to the Yankton Press & Dakotan. Back in Vermillion, Glenda said she was ecstatic at her daughter's selection. "Dani knew that (the president) was coming to the hospital, but it was maybe a week before they actually found out that she was going to be the one that was giving the tour," Walker said. During a visit to the Vermillion Plain Talk, however, Glenda made sure to mention the important role her two other daughters are playing in the U.S. military. Service to country, it turns out, is becoming a strong tradition for the Weydert sisters. Brittany Weydert, also a nurse, is a commissioned second lieutenant with the U.S. Army. She was given the oath of office at Creighton University last month by someone familiar — her sister, Dani. Dani is a first lieutenant, and Brittany recently graduated from Creighton University in Omaha and is a second lieutenant. McKinsey is in ROTC and a junior at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, MN. McKinsey is studying nursing and has received a full scholarship. Dani flew home from Germany for Brittany's commissioning two weeks ago to administer Brittany's oath. The third Weydert sister, McKinsey, pinned the bars on the shoulders of Brittany's uniform, with the help of the three servicewomen's 10-year-old brother, Noah Walker. Brittany has just received orders that will take her to Ft. Lewis in Washington state. McKinsey continues her ROTC studies at the College of Saint Benedict. Dani told her mother that she didn't know why she was chosen for the presidential visit. "Dani's colonel called her and said, 'I would like you to give a tour to President Obama,'" Walker said. "Dani is very modest and very humble. She told her colonel, 'I don't know what I did to deserve this, but thank you. What an honor.'" Moments later, Dani found her stomach churning at the thought of meeting the president. But Schaaf regained her military posture and prepared for Obama's visit. Security precautions began immediately. "The White House started calling Dani's house in Germany, because you have to have very high clearance to be in the same building with the President," Glenda said. Obama's visit to Landstuhl would be momentous in itself, Walker said. But the president's tour came amidst a historic trip, she said, which included a visit to Saudi Arabia, a worldwide speech to Muslims in Cairo, a visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany and participation in the anniversary marking the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France. The entire German nation responded to Obama's visit, Glenda said. "Germany shut down while Obama was there. They closed the autobahn," she said, referring to the German superhighway known for its high speeds. Security was especially tight at Landstuhl, Glenda said. "At the hospital, if it wasn't necessary for people to be there, they didn't have to come in. Those who came to work had their special clearance," she said. During his visit to Landstuhl, Obama showed a personal interest in the service members, Dani said. "He was very kind and really took the time to listen to the stories our patients had to tell about their injuries and how things are going," she said. "He was very personable and made people feel comfortable." The respect was mutual, Dani said. "The soldiers were so excited to see (the president). The ones that were able, dressed in uniform and stood up for their commander-in-chief. They were very touched by the words he shared with them," she said. "(Obama) told every soldier that he 'prayed for them every night before he went to bed, and they were the first thing he thought of when he woke up.' He was very sincere." The president tried to put Dani at ease during the tour, Glenda said. "Dani's tour lasted 45 minutes with him," Glenda said. "He gave her a hug and said to her, 'Do you always smile like this?' She said, 'I don't know, sir.' He said, 'Do you wake up with a smile on your face?,' and she said, 'I don't know, sir.' "He started laughing, and the Secret Service started laughing. It was almost surreal. It was once-in-a-lifetime." After the visit, Schaaf told her mother that she felt comfortable with the chief executive. "Dani said (Obama) is as humble and down-to-earth as anybody," Glenda said. Dani said her tour focused on the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center's role, particularly in the Global War On Terror. The center's staff is comprised of 2,837 military and civilians. "I work on a medical surgical ward, and I have worked here for about a year-and-a-half. It's an Army facility, but we're staffed with Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines," she said. "We take care of all the soldiers sustaining battle and non-battle injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan that are on their way back to the States for further medical care. It is often a quick turnaround for the soldiers here. They typically only stay two to four days, and then they are transported to the States." LRMC is the largest American hospital outside the United States, and the only American tertiary hospital in Europe. The center provides primary care, tertiary care, hospitalization and treatment for more than 245,000 U.S. military personnel and their families within the European Command. LRMC is also the evacuation and treatment center for all injured U.S. service members and contractors as well as members of 41 coalition forces serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as Africa Command, Central Command, European Command and Pacific Command. In terms of battle injuries, Landstuhl treated 1,297 patients from Operation Enduring Freedom and 9,523 from Operation Iraqi Freedom from Jan. 1, 2004, through May 1, 2009. The total number of patients treated during that time was 54,736. Dani said she was privileged to share a few moments with her commander in chief. President Obama's visit will have a lasting impact on the staff and patients at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, she predicted. "It was very exciting and really good for our soldiers to be able to meet (Obama) in person," she said. Dani's recent experiences mark an exciting chapter in the tightly-woven lives of the three sisters. Glenda is happy that Dani had the opportunity to walk in the same path as the president of the United States. But most significant to Glenda are the accomplishments, and the honor to country that is so strongly instilled in her children. "It's very special," she said, fighting back tears, "to see all of your kids doing so well."
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