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In search of one’s roots ... and health

Operation Ancestor Search helps wounded warriors

Staff Sgt. Jasmine Mantano receives a certificate from Dr. Keith Weissinger as a participant in Operation Ancestor Search. Photo credit: Warrior Transition Battalion -- JBLM

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There is a Chinese proverb that goes as follows: "To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root."

The writer is unknown; the sentiment is clear. 

It is in this spirit that Operation Ancestor Search (OAS) commenced Oct. 17 with soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) leading the way.

Established by the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), the first OAS program formed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2009. Its purpose was to serve soldiers wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.

SAR is comprised of individuals of proven lineal descent from an ancestor who served during the American Revolution.

When retired pediatrician Dr. Keith Weissinger, a SAR member who has 10 ancestors who served during the Revolution, read about the OAS program, he decided to establish one at JBLM.

"I realized that OAS did not exist in our area and there were soldiers at JBLM who could be served by this program, and it seemed like a perfect fit," he said.

To start, Weissinger worked with a number of individuals to include Col. Suzanne Scott, Lt. Col. Michael Dengler, Laura Rodeman, and Phyllis Tharp in order to stand up OAS.

Its mandate is to teach genealogy, and to conduct family history research with wounded warriors. 

"It provides a reason for these soldiers to think about something other than doctors' appointments and physical therapy sessions," Weissinger explained.

"The skills we teach can be used anytime and anyplace an Internet connection is available ... and it provides a reason for the soldier to reach out to other family members ... to help alleviate the loneliness that may plague a soldier's recovery."

Wounded warriors receive educational sessions on how to conduct a genealogical research and a free one-year account to

As these soldiers conduct their research, they receive one-on-one assistance from volunteers.

During the program's first session, Weissinger said that four volunteers worked with eight soldiers.

Weissinger shared some early success stories.

"I did help a soldier born in Guam to discover the Guamanian census records and thereby find the names of her ancestors," he continued, "and another soldier found a yearbook photo of his father ... and I received an email from another participant who believes he has found a Revolutionary War soldier."

He also pointed out that he has been contacted by other units at Madigan to expand the program.

Nationally, the program is offered in Warrior Transition Battalions, Veterans Administration programs, military hospitals and retirement homes.

"We are here," concluded Weissinger, "and we truly enjoy learning about our families and ancestors and we want to share that joy. It is not about descending from kings, but about the farmers, wagon makers, pioneers, coal miners and military ancestors."

As the proverb above said, it's about roots.

For more information, visit: or contact the WTB at 253.966.4200.

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