CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — U.S. Military Hospital Kuwait is folding up its tents.
The staff will move into a building across the street but retain a mobile status, Navy officials said. The new medical facility is expected to open within the next month.
The Level 3 field hospital that went up here three years ago following the closure of Camp Doha is the last tent compound used by U.S. forces in the Middle East, according to Dr. (Navy Capt.) Kevin Moore, commander of the Medical Task Force Kuwait and head of Expeditionary Medical Facility Kuwait.
It remains fully operational and capable of treating trauma patients with a crew of more than 350 Navy doctors, nurses and corpsmen blended into a unit from 32 different commands around the world. Personnel come to Kuwait on six-month rotations but some extend for a year.
Moore said all sections are being transferred into the larger facility, which will enable “us [to become] more of a sustainment operation where we can accommodate patients for a longer time.”
“Functionally, we’ll be the same,” he added. “We’ll have a few extra labs and more space so we can spread out our stock. The capabilities we have here are just amazing. … It’s an exceptional facility.”
At the beginning of the Iraq war, Moore said, many wounded U.S. troops were sent to the Kuwaiti military hospital, then to the tent facility at Doha and later Camp Arifjan. As coalition forces advanced quickly into Baghdad, medical capabilities went north with them.
The majority of patients at Arifjan today come in from Kuwait-based camps, said Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Klein, the department head of in-patient nursing.
“We get nonbattle injuries here and a lot of dental patients also,” said Klein, 41, of Southbury, Conn. “They’re mostly from area camps. We haven’t seen a lot of trauma from Iraq.”
The tent hospital has a 17-bed ward, Klein added. The new facility will feature the same amount but in a more spacious setting with modern upgrades.
Vehicle accidents on Kuwait’s sometimes perilous highways probably pose the biggest danger to U.S. servicemembers, according to Moore. But there are a few buried mines from the first Gulf War still around as well, he added.
EMF-Kuwait holds two operating rooms, where doctors perform more than 100 surgeries a month, he said. Many are elective, repairing ailments such as hernias and orthopedic injuries.
The new hospital was built in six months — longer than projected, but a facility of this size normally takes two years to complete, he said.
And while the structure certainly has a more permanent look and feel, medical personnel maintain their expeditionary capacity.
“That’s the whole key. We have to be able to move within 72 hours,” Moore said. “That’s how we’re designed and staffed.”