Sunday, May 06, 2007

Medics make a difference in Yusufiyah

By Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO

FORWARD OPERATING BASE YUSUFIYAH, Iraq — “We’ve never lost a … U.S. patient here,” said Capt. Christopher Tilton, a physician’s assistant with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry).
Tilton, optimistically boasts that wounded Soldiers who come to his aid station on Forward Operating Base Yusufiyah have a great chance of surviving.
It’s an impressive claim to be able to make, considering that Yusufiyah has historically been an area where many Soldiers and Iraqi civilians alike are wounded.
Spc. Fernando Gallegos, a native of Torrance, Calif., and a medic also assigned to Company A, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT, out of Fort Drum, N.Y., said he enjoys the challenges of his job.
“We see a lot of massive trauma here,” Gallegos said. “Gunshot and improvised explosive device wounds, lacerations and heavy bleeding. I get really calm (when I’m working). Everyone has fear, but I find I think very clearly. Sometimes I do things without even realizing it.”
The work he does as an Army medic will serve him later, he hopes.
“To have experience like this – it makes people who they are and who they will become in the future. I want to be a firefighter when I leave the Army, and spontaneous treatment of casualties will help out in the emergency medical services aspect of that.”
The battalion often conducts medical operations in local villages. They set up litters as examination tables and bring traveling pharmacies to treat local Iraqi citizens for everything from minor coughs and colds to serious burns and shrapnel wounds. But the local nationals around the FOB bring their wounded to the aid station, knowing they can receive care that is otherwise nearly impossible.
“This brigade is big on conducting (medical operations),” Tilton said. “We do them almost every day. I think it’s safe to say that every other aid station in the brigade combined still hasn’t seen as many patients as we have.”
Most of the patients the medics and providers treat are children younger than 15 years old, said Tilton.
Sgt. Jason Lane, a native of Austin, Texas, recently treated a two-month-old infant for a stomach virus. The child’s father brought him in late one evening.
“He hadn’t been able to keep food down for about a day,” Lane said. “We gave him baby formula and instructions on how to give it to him and how often. It was more of a tutorial on parenting.”
The Soldiers enjoy helping the Iraqis, but building strong relationships with the Soldiers they work with is essential, said Sgt. Charles Fields, a native of New York, N.Y., because it reduces fear in combat.
“If Soldiers know they have good medics, they’ll take more risks, because they know their medics will take care of them,” he said.
Still, some of the most difficult work is with the Iraqi civilians.
“Terrorists mortared a playground,” said Fields, recalling an incident not long after the brigade arrived in Yusufiyah. “There were a lot of children, and most of them ended up dying. That lasted hours. It was terrible; that was my first time working with children like that. I’d never seen children so badly wounded.”
Now, he said, things have calmed down – at least a little.
“Sometimes we go a week without seeing a trauma, and then we’ll have a week with 20.”
And despite the things they see – which many people would find too disturbing – they manage to find humor.
“They continually keep morale up and do a phenomenal job,” said 1st Lt. Aaron Brooks, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., who serves as the battalion’s medical operations officer. “They’re definitely a huge asset to the brigade, to say the least. They’re amazing.”

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