"Optimizing Combat Casualty Care"

Connie and Albert Ross recite their 10-year vow renewal Jan. 19 in the exact same spot where they first met at the Brooke Army Medical Center 12 years ago. Retired Army Staff Sgt. William Watson was the bride’s “Battle Buddy” and officiated the ceremony.

Retired Army couple renew wedding vows at SAMMC

Story and photo by Dr. Steven Galvan, DBA
USAISR Public Affairs Officer

U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research
25 JAN 2017

Renewing wedding vows is a special occasion for many married couples. For Albert and Connie Ross, their 10-year vow renewal celebration Jan. 19 was special in many ways, for it was held at the exact same spot where they first met at the San Antonio Military Medical Center 12 years ago. And, the ceremony officiant was the bride’s “Battle Buddy” and as an added surprise, the person who walked her down the aisle, in this case the hospital hallway, was her surgeon while she was hospitalized.

It was Jan. 19, 2005, when the then, Sgt. Connie Spinks was waiting outside the entrance to the physical rehab department for one of her three-daily rehab sessions. She was sitting in a wheelchair minding her own business when she noticed a young, handsome Soldier, Spc. Albert Ross, walking in her direction.

“I looked up at him and said, ‘what you doing pimp-walking down the hallway?’’’ she said.

“Pimp-walking,” he replied. “I’m an amputee.”

Albert was coming from the back entrance of SAMMC with a bag of popcorn that he had just picked up. With a look of disbelief on her face, Albert sat next to her and raised his uniform pant leg up and showed her his prosthetic leg, all along enjoying his popcorn.

“Then she tells me, ‘didn’t your mom teach you how to share,’” he said.

From that day they became good friend and would meet often to play video games or just hang out at a small facility specifically designed for that purpose for Wounded Warriors and their families at the Army and Family Support Center.

The year before they met, Connie had been admitted to the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center collocated with SAMMC at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Albert was across the hallway at SAMMC. Connie was injured while traveling with a convoy in Mosul, Iraq, when a suicide bomber driving a small pickup blew himself up when he drove up next to the Humvee that she was traveling in. She sustained 2nd degree burns to her face, 3rd degree burns to her hands and forearms, both of her ankles were shattered, her right femur was broken and her eardrums were perforated. Albert lost his lower right when he was hit by a rocket propelled grenade while on patrol in Baghdad, Iraq. They never met while they were hospitalized until that fateful day.

Two years to the day, the couple got married, which was an unexpected surprise to Connie.

“We spent a lot of time together, and I never knew that he liked me like that,” she said. “I love him so much; he has been there for me during this whole ordeal.”

The Ross’ have three children who are 8, 7 and 6 and live in San Antonio. Albert is an automobile and diesel mechanic, and Connie is a teacher at the First Baptist Academy. They are grateful for the opportunity to have had their vow renewal ceremony at SAMMC. It was made even more special with retired Army Col. (Dr.) Evan Renz, former hospital commander and Burn Center director surprising them with his attendance.

“It was touching to have him there,” said Connie. “He remembered who I was, which is amazing considering that he cared for hundreds of patients. It just touched my heart and meant a lot to me.”

“It was a great privilege for me to be invited to the couple's special event,” said Renz. “The couple represents a striking example of why our military health system must always remain focused on combat casualty care. These two Soldiers arrived here as individuals more than a decade ago, after faithfully serving and sacrificing for their country. They remain a strong couple who support each other as Veterans.”

The ceremony officiant was retired Army Staff Sgt. William Watson. Connie said that William was on the same Medevac flight that transported them to SAMMC. William lost his right leg below the knee from an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Iraq.

“Ever since then, I have considered him my ‘Battle Buddy,’” she said.

The last item that made the ceremony special for Connie was that the veil that she wore at her ceremony was the one that her mother wore at her 30-year vow renewal ceremony. She plans to wear the same veil at their 30-year vow renewal ceremony as well.

“Connie's resilience was inspiring to me when I first met her in 2004, and remains so today,” added Renz. “Seeing her again further validates the wonderful care provided by our military's medical personnel.”