Commander Col. Van Coots of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center found his office phone ringing furiously off the hook on Wednesday. Activists read from blog sites that he sent an e-mail to his staff and patients recognizing the Islamic new year.
“It was a message sent entirely out on Walter Reed Army Medical Center announcements to my staff just letting people know that this was the Islamic new year and wishing everyone Muharram Mubarak,” Colonel Coots told me on Wednesday.
What may have been unknown to these blogs, however, according to Colonel Coots himself, was that he previously sent out a Hanukkah message a few weeks ago and plans to send a Christmas message to both staff and patients tomorrow. He also mentioned he sends out messages for all the “major holidays” including: the Fourth of July, Ramadan, Thanksgiving, and Rosh Hashanah.
“First and foremost this was a message to my command group, so somehow or another it got forwarded to the outside, but that’s neither here nor there. But this is simply a message from the commander to the commander’s troops,” said the Colonel. “It’s nothing more than that. And I noticed there are number of websites that have been really taking this on and have really gone viral and crazy with it. That is what is beyond my understanding.”
Below is the e-mail Colonel Coots sent out on December 8:
From: WRAMC [Walter Reed Army Medical Center] Announcements
Sent: Wed 12/8/2010 11:19 AM
To: WRAMC Master Mail List
Subject: WRHCS [Walter Reed Health Care Service] Commander’s Muharram Greeting (UNCLASSIFIED)
Yesterday we began the first day of the Islamic New Year with the month of Muharram, one of four sacred months out of the twelve months of the year. This is a time of fasting, prayer, and reflection. I and the command group wish each of you Muharram Mubarak.
Van Coots, MD
“This e-mail was sent out as you can see on that one website as an announcement from Colonel Coots to the staff, because we do have staff members and patients who are Muslim and he always recognizes religious holidays, Jewish faiths, Christian faiths, and the Muslim faith,” said Terry Goodman deputy spokesman for Walter Reed Army Medical.
“It was just a holiday to those Muslims to have a great new year,” he said.
Mr. Goodman continued, “He feels that he should recognize when there is significant date or time frames of those religions. We sent out a happy Hanukkah message. It went out a few weeks ago for our patients and staffers of the Jewish faith and our Christmas message will be going out tomorrow.”