Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI)
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — In garrison, a cavity is a minor inconvenience necessitating a trip to the dental clinic. On a patrol base where there are not even portable toilets, however, it can become a major pain – literally – just to get a Soldier medical attention.
Because of the problems of getting Soldiers specialized care in the field, Company C, 210th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) hit upon the idea of the “Doc-in-a-Box.”
The DIAB is simply a doctor’s office built into a large metal storage container, known to the military as a connex, which can be loaded on a flatbed truck and hauled from patrol base to patrol base.
“We can go out, take care of what needs to be taken care of, and come back to refit,” explained Cpl. Jamie Bidwell of Luddington, Mich., who serves as a medic with 210th BSB, while painting the inside of one of the containers. “We want to bring care to the Soldiers. Instead of taking the force from the fight, we’ll take the care to them.”
The container was lined with plywood walls by Kellogg, Brown and Root contractors. The rest of the work is done by Soldiers of Co. C.
“I’m familiar with wiring from previous deployments,” Bidwell said. “I’m a medic of all trades.”
Two of the containers are already out in the field, one fully equipped as a dental clinic; the other is built for physical therapy. Soon to follow will be behavioral health, a laboratory and an X-ray station. The units are completely self-contained and include amenities like heat and air conditioning, sinks, lights and necessary tools like X-ray machines and dental suction devices. Everything is bolted down, Bidwell explained, so that the connex can be picked up using the standard machinery without fear of damage.
When the last three portable clinics are ready – each one takes about a week to finish and furnish – they can be taken as a set to different forward operating bases to treat Soldiers.
“Lt. Col. (Brian) Rogers and I talked, about a year ago, about doing something different,” said Co. C commander Capt. Russell Ritter of Ypsilanti, Mich. “We’re still forcing the Soldiers to come to us. This is an effort to push medical support forward and an attempt by the medical community to push it into sector, because it’s not easy for Soldiers to come in.
“With this capability we can push treatment out to guys who might otherwise not see it for months,” Ritter said.
The portable, self-contained clinics allow the doctors and medics who staff them to make a minimal impact on the forward operating bases they visit. Staffers can sleep in the clinic, removing the need for extra billeting. The set of five connexes runs on a single generator which is transported with them.
“We don’t have to impede on anyone else’s area,” Ritter said.
The modular idea also means that specialized medical care can be conducted to normal standards.
“In the past when dentists and physical therapists went out, they had a level one aid station, and they needed to move things around. I think this is going to help a great deal,” Ritter said.
The company is also experimenting with lining the conexes with Kevlar planks.
“We’re trying to increase the force protection,” Bidwell said.
The plan, Ritter explained, is to send the collection of clinics out on three-to-four-day missions, then bring them back to refit, and send them somewhere else, rotating through the bases so that Soldiers can plan to be treated when the clinics arrive.
“It’s not like sick call,” he explained. “These are specialty areas.”
The Soldiers who staff the clinics will travel with them in shifts.
“Medics always want to be outside the wire,” said Bidwell. “We want to be where the Soldiers are.”
Getting the Doc-in-a-Box clinics fielded will help with that, she said.
“We feel like a valuable asset to the Co. C team, because we’re keeping Soldiers in the fight.”