The captain was airborne somewhere between Germany and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington, he was badly injured, and she knew almost nothing about him.
Kathleen Bair, a human resources manager for a Baltimore bookbinding company, made child-care arrangements for her two sons, 16 and 9, on that day in late June, canceled her hair appointment and drove the 45 minutes to the hospital.
Capt. Charles Ziegenfuss had arrived. He was on a stretcher in intensive care. An explosion in Iraq had blown him open three days before.
She sat beside him for hours. When he could open his eyes, she told him his family was on the way. Then she sat down again, waiting.
"It doesn't have to be a lot," says Bair, who is 44, the daughter of a man who served in the Army, and a volunteer for Soldiers' Angels, a California-based nonprofit. "Sometimes it's just holding their hands and when they say, 'It hurts,' you just squeeze and say, 'I know.' "
"I almost never get a no when I ask for something," says Patti Patton-Bader, who founded Soldiers' Angels in 2003 when her son was shipped out for the war. She has since enlisted more than 40,000 volunteers across the country to do everything from write letters to donate computers, backpacks and kevlar blankets to troops in the field. "Companies or individuals. You tell them it's for soldiers, and they'll just do it."
Bair, coming down after work or on weekends, brought the two women [CPT Ziegenfuss’ mother and wife] everything from toothbrushes to sandwiches. She got Soldiers' Angels to arrange for domestic help for Carren's sister while Chuck and Carren's kids were staying with her. When Ziegenfuss emerged from the fog of pain medication, Soldiers' Angels got him a computer -- and, because of his heavily bandaged left hand, where he lost a pinky, added voice-activated software. He got back online with his popular blog. It's gotten 90,000 hits in the past three months.
For Bair, the relationship is winding down. There are other soldiers she looks in on, other wounds to mend. None of it will change the world. Hand-holding and sandwiches and toothbrushes rarely do.
They just make it a little more bearable, these acts of kindness from strangers in a time of war, these things that bind us.
BZ, Kathleen. You are one special Angel.