WüRZBURG, Germany — During their 13-month deployment, the Army reservists from the 348th General Hospital didn’t have to sleep in tents, choke on sand, or dodge roadside bombs.
What they did do was to put their lives on hold, shutter their houses, and leave jobs, pets and sweethearts — just like any other soldier.
“You’re living in Europe, you’re living this cushy life,” said Maj. Mary Colberg, 48, the head emergency room nurse at Würzburg Army Hospital. “But I still miss my kids.”
On Monday, the men and women of the 348th transferred command of the Würzburg hospital back to the 67th Combat Support Hospital, the unit for which they substituted while its people shipped out to Iraq.
It’s been a long year, but not without perks — best of all, the chance to travel around Europe on their days off.
“I’ve been everywhere,” said 1st Lt. Nicole Pressler, 30, the unit’s adjutant, who visited Paris; Rome; Normandy, France; Spain; and Ireland among many other places. “I took full advantage of every (travel) opportunity.”
To most members of the 348th, their call-up in January 2004 came as a shock, if not a surprise. Based in Drums, Pa., the unit’s members hail from New York, New Jersey and Delaware as well as Pennsylvania. For years, the unit trained to quickly set up and run a field hospital in a war zone. They’d never rehearsed jumping into a fully functional clinic.
“To go into a fixed facility like this is just nothing we ever expected,” said Maj. Matthew O’Neil, 39, the hospital’s executive officer.
The 348th’s members hastily got their lives in order. Master Sgt. Frank Sweeney, 40, and his wife, Master Sgt. Theresa Sweeney, 37, had been caring for their niece while Theresa’s sister, a single mother, had been deployed with her military police unit to Iraq.
She arrived home just in time to take back not only her own daughter, but the Sweeneys’ two teenage children as well.
“She just kind of moved right in,” Theresa Sweeney said.
On Feb. 27, the 348th took over the hospital.
Two months later, it hastily revamped the hospital’s inpatient ward for war casualties. The bloody fighting in Iraq during April 2004 meant 1st Infantry Division troops seriously but not critically wounded would need a place to recuperate near their families.
“It’s always emotional, taking care of these young kids that were wounded,” said Lt. Col. Raymond Drefus, 57, the hospital’s officer in charge.
During the year, the “Victory Ward” would treat 60 soldiers with war injuries. Mostly, though, they treated family members and the non-1st ID soldiers stationed in and near Würzburg.
After the 67th CSH soldiers came home in mid-January, the 348th troops expected they’d quickly get word that they, too, would be headed home soon. They were dismayed when that word didn’t come.
O’Neil said that’s because their chain of command in Europe hoped to keep the 348th in Germany until after an accreditation inspection scheduled in May.
But by late February, the Army surgeon general’s office ordered the unit released by April 1. Now, the 348th soldiers will spend a few days out-processing, then start flying home Monday.
“We’re all happy, and we’re ready to go home,” said Staff Sgt. Quincy Belton, 43.