By John Cook
Opportunities to serve can come in a number of different ways. For Rod and Melinda Merkly this opportunity came at the Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany while working with wounded soldiers from Iraq.
The Merklys are both staff sergeants in the United States Army Reserves. Two years ago, they were confronted with a tough decision – both were enlisted in the Army Reserves, and like most couples, their worst fear was to be separated and sent on different missions.
Instead of being separated, they enlisted in an assignment that would take them together to the Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany for two years. The medical facility in Landstuhl is the largest permanent military hospital outside of the United States, and the closest to Iraq.
“When we tell people we were gone for two years, they automatically think, ”Oh, you were on an LDS mission,”” Melinda Merkly said. “We have to quickly clarify and tell them that it wasn”t that kind of a mission.”
For two years, Rod worked in the Neurology and Sleep Clinic, where he was able to see firsthand the effects of war on the U.S. military.
Being a medic, Merkly was able to walk and talk with the patients, helping them with their basic needs. Each activity gave Rod the opportunity to listen to the patients and learn about their experiences on the front line.
Melinda also worked at the clinic, but she worked with soldiers who had undergone spinal injuries.
“The majority [of soldiers] could get around, but they are living with a lot of pain,” she said.
Most of the soldiers in the Landstuhl Medial Center were put on a plan where medical personnel had 14 days to decide if they could return to Iraq or if their injuries would prevent them from doing so.
“They just wanted to get back to support their unit,” Melinda said.
The Merklys originally signed up for a one-year mission in Germany, but because of the excessive need for trained medics, they were able to extend their mission another year.
“I would recommend the military to anyone,” Rod said. “The military needs good moral leaders. Returned missionaries have the life experiences the military needs.”
After returning from Germany in December, both Rod and Melinda returned to school. Rod is studying psychology at BYU and Melinda continues to study nursing at UVSC.