160th Forward Surgical Team honored for skills, speed
October 30, 2003
CAMP BABYLON, Iraq — They’re as skilled at putting up a tent as they are saving a soldier’s life.
The 18 members of the 160th Forward Surgical Team have finally settled in to a semi-permanent location at this camp, about 80 miles south of Baghdad. Since the beginning of the war, the team traveled from southern to northern Iraq, then halfway back to Babylon.
During the drive north, they remained close to the front lines where team members provided medical care for badly wounded soldiers.
The team has seen all types of wounds, “chest, abdomen, neck, and vascular surgeries, including amputations,” said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Slobodan Jazarevic, the team’s trauma surgeon.
The unit is designed to get patients into the operating room, stabilized for travel, then sent to an Army hospital.
“We try to get them out within six hours if we can,” Jazarevic said. “Those not stable will remain with us until they are stable or they die.”
They had to clear patients quickly because, as the front line moved, so did the surgical team. The unit’s two surgeons, six nurses and 10 noncommissioned officer medics are able to pack the hospital in six Humvees and trailers, move the unit, then unpack and reset for surgery within a few hours.
“Since March 10, we have set up about 10 times,” said Jazarevic.
The Landstuhl, Germany-based soldiers crossed into Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division in April, pushed north with the 3rd Infantry Division to Mosul, then returned through Baghdad to set up camp with the Polish-led multinational brigade in Babylon.
“Most challenging for us were the convoy drives of 48 hours with only stops for refueling,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ozie Best, the team’s first sergeant. “Even though we hadn’t slept, we’d have to be set up in 1½ hours.”
Best said there were times during the war when the unit didn’t even have time to set up anything but the surgical tents. They would operate, pack up and move again, not stopping to sleep.
They also provided their own convoy and camp security.
“Often, we’d help with guard duties and perimeter defense,” said Jazarevic. “Officers and soldiers alike.”
The 160th is the last remaining, and longest serving, active-duty forward surgical team in Iraq. According to Jazarevic, there still are a few reserve teams in country.
“We’ll be the first FST to spend an entire year in Iraq,” said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Alfonso Alarcon, an orthopedic surgeon who’s commanded the unit since May 28. He’s also been in Iraq since the war’s kickoff, first serving with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
The 160th replaced the Navy’s Forward Resuscitative Support System when the multinational brigade moved in a few months ago. The Polish-led brigade has units from 22 countries, many of which have their own doctors.
“We love working with those guys,” said Jazarevic. “They’ve got a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge and resources. We’ve got Mongolian doctors around here, Romanian doctors … Polish and Hungarian.”
“We’re a minority on post,” said Alarcon. “In a way, being here at Camp Babylon … we’re laying the groundwork and creating friendships that will help us in the future.”
Like the brigade itself, the 160th is multinational. Jazarevic was born in Zagreb, Croatia; Alarcon’s a native of the Philippines, and one of the unit’s nurses is originally from Poland. Their former commander was Ukrainian.
For their service, they were twice awarded the combat medical badge; once each for their work with 101st and once with the 3rd ID.