Wednesday, January 23, 2008

3-1 Cav. Regt. Medics Help Heal Communities

Capt. Mike Garrison, from Fort Lee, Va., the physical therapist assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, examines the shoulder of an Iraqi gunshot victim at Patrol Base Assassin, Jan. 15.
Capt. Sayed Ali, from Long Island, N.Y., the surgeon assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, and Pfc. Israel Ruiz, a medic in Troop A, 3-1 Cav. Regt., examine an Iraqi cabdriver, who was injured by an insurgent improvised explosive device, at Patrol Base Assassin, Jan. 16.

By Spc. Ben Hutto
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – Ahmed’s whole body shook as Capt. Sayed Ali, from Long Island, N.Y., the surgeon assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, examined him. Ahmed, a 24-year-old cab driver, was driving his cab when an insurgent roadside bomb destroyed his vehicle and left him injured, forcing his father to bring him to Patrol Base Assassin for help.

Ali asked the cab driver to perform a series of movements to determine the severity of his injuries. As the young man strained, his father and the medics of Troop A looked on. Obviously in pain, Ahmed weakly strained to push his head against Ali’s palm.

Ali asked his medics to prepare medication for Ahmed to take home and gave the young man a new cane for better support.

Consultations like these, between Ali and local citizens living around Patrol Base Assassin, are frequent. Medics working for Ali estimate he sees one or two local citizens at the patrol base aid station every day.

“We’ve done everything from treating a common cold to amputated limb rehabilitation,” said Spc. Clifford Overton, from Nashville, Tenn., a combat medic in Troop A. “In many cases, there is only so much we can do because of our supplies here, but we do what we can. The people here need more quality doctors. A lot of patients come to us because they have no other options. They look to us for hope.”

Overton explained that many of the aid station’s patients come because they have no money, they trust that American doctors have more expertise or they have been treated by local doctors with little success.

Whatever the reason, Ali and his medics never turn anyone away.

“Captain Ali is awesome,” said Spc. Rafik Brooks, Jr., from Keysport, Pa., a combat medic in Troop A. “His morals are so high that he sees everyone that comes. He will schedule appointments with people outside. He takes referrals from civil affairs. He finds people at our medops (medical operations) and has them come back here for follow-ups.”

Although many at the patrol base believe Ali goes out of his way to help the local populace, he doesn’t view his actions as anything special.

“I don’t like it or dislike doing it,” Ali said. “My main priority is to get all of these guys (Troop A Soldiers) back to their families. I can’t tell them not to go out or keep them here at the base, but if I can indirectly protect them from an IED (improvised explosive device) or a VBIED (vehicle borne improvised explosive device), it’s a good thing.”

Overton agrees with Ali.

“One act of kindness can save a world of hurt when it comes to IEDs and things like that,” he said. “An act of kindness can show the people here that we are here to help and prompt them to report things like IEDs. What we are doing here has a big effect on what’s going on out there.”

Ali said Troop A has been receptive to the needs of the people around them since their arrival.

“I think from day one we were open to people coming here,” Ali said. “People here were initially scared of an American patrol base but, as you can see, it has gotten better as word has gotten out. People are now showing up without me having to ask them to come.”

Ali’s willingness and Patrol Base Assassin’s location near the Four Corners market area make it easier for Iraqis to come see him.

“The tactical position of the patrol base is a big factor,” Brooks said. “Everyone knows where we are and that we are reaching out to help them.”

Brooks acknowledges that many of the patients have unreasonable expectations when they arrive.

“A lot of them get a reality check when they come here,” he said. “They see what medicine should be like rather than what a lot of them place emphasis on. The people here place a lot of value on creams and salves and there are a lot of conditions where that isn’t applicable.”

Brooks also said that his station is limited as far as supplies, so many medical treatments that people need can not be provided at the clinic.

Ali uses a web of contacts to help alleviate the constraints of the clinic. He works with surgeons, a civilian prosthetic specialist, a physical therapist with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, a hearing aide specialist and a handful of Iraqi doctors throughout Iraq to try and help his patients receive the best treatment for their conditions.

“It has taken me six months to build this network,” he said. “It has grown as needs have arisen. I really credit Major Majerske (Maj. Cynthia Majerske, the 3rd BCT’s surgeon) for everything. Every project I’ve run by her, she’s helped and not shut it down. The support from the top has been great.”

Ali is also quick to point out that his medics deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the good work that is happening.

“I’ve told every general that has visited here that I’m just the face of this operation,” he said. “The medics do all the work. They run the physical therapy sessions. They put in the IVs and chest tubes. They go out on the patrols and bring a lot of situations to my attention. Out here, it’s a Soldier’s life. I think they have always outdone themselves. They are constantly training and learning on top of all of their other responsibilities.”

The medics are proud of their accomplishments.

“It’s been the experience of a lifetime,” Overton said. “Being in a line unit is different. There is a huge difference between going out every day and being in an aide station behind walls. We can explain it to people all day, but only those of us that have been out here will understand everything we’ve done. It has been a real learning experience. It will be something I’ll always be proud of.”

Even though the experience can’t fully be put into words, Overton explained working with the people of Iraq has been a special experience for him.

“When you are working on an American casualty you feel a lot of pain and anger,” he said. “When you do something, like helping the people here, it makes you feel good. Our job is to help casualties of war, not just the American Soldier. We aren’t the only victims of this war. There are a lot of innocent bystanders.”

Ali believes the Soldiers he works with are outstanding examples of everything that is right with the Army.

“I think in addition to being the world’s greatest army, we are the world’s most compassionate army,” he said. “You see these huge massive Soldiers and you put them in front of little kids and they become little kids themselves. They look at these children and they see the sons and daughters they haven’t seen in 15 months. All of these guys have very tough exteriors, but also have very big hearts.”

Ali said care packages sent from America have been a big help to the medics.

People have mailed Ali pain relievers, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bandages and anti-acids to assist the citizens he treats on a daily basis.

“Since we’ve been here, the American people have been very generous,” he said. “We receive two to 10 packages every two weeks. Everyone back in America has been amazingly supportive. To be honest, I don’t even know who they are. They have just heard about us and lent their support.”

As more and more people come, Ali and his medics will continue to help them with the hope it will help keep American Soldiers safe.

“I’d rather be working on an Iraqi patient than a U.S. Soldier,” Ali said. “Not that one life is more important than another, but these are my boys. I’m very protective of them and my main goal is to get them all back home to their families. My heart goes out to all these young Soldiers out here. I have so much admiration for everything they do. I don’t have to get up in the middle of the night and pull guard or do details like these kids do every day. All of them go out. Hopefully by helping these people, it will mean that everyone of them will come back safely.”

The 3-1 Cav. Regt. is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March, 2007.

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