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U.S. Army medical troops in South Korea are engaged in their biggest operation since the Korean War, working to get 2nd Infantry Division troops medically ready for deployment to Iraq.

The 18th Medical Command in Seoul sent more than 1,000 of its soldiers from around South Korea to Camp Casey to ensure troops of the division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team have injections, dental work, eyeglasses, updated medical records and other medical services needed before deploying.

The BCT’s 3,600 troops leave for Kuwait soon, where they’ll pick up tanks, Humvees and other military hardware to take into Iraq. The equipment left South Korea last week aboard two ships.

Transporting the brigade’s equipment from the division area in the northern part of Korea to the southern seaport of Pusan by truck and train was one of the biggest logistics operations in the five-decade history of the U.S. Army in South Korea, officials said.

But the medical side of the brigade’s deployment also is setting a record.

“Shy of the Korean War, this has been the greatest logistical challenge that 18th MedCom has had,” said Maj. Larry France, the command’s physician assistant consultant. “We’ve had over 800 enlisted soldiers and over 300 officers involved in getting the BCT ready to deploy,” France said Thursday.

“The impact has been extensive … far reaching … we’ve used personnel as far south as Taegu and as far north as the DMZ to assist in getting the BCT ready to deploy,” he said. The DMZ refers to Korea’s Demilitarized Zone separating North Korea and South Korea.

With more than 1,000 MedCom troops deployed to Camp Casey, some Army clinics around South Korea have cut routine patient clinic service, France said.

At the 121 General Hospital in Seoul, for example, “certain clinics … have had to curtail their day-to-day scheduling for patients as far as 50 percent to get the BCT ready to deploy,” France said.

The command’s troops this week are at Camp Casey conducting an SRP, or Soldier Readiness Program. During SRP, medical troops provide soldiers with vaccines, blood tests, sunglasses, prescription eyeglasses and dental work the troops may need. An SRP also entails administrative work — updating medical records and making sure soldiers fill out a health questionnaire.

They also identify which soldiers may have medical conditions that would prevent deployment, such as incomplete dental work. “That’s very important,” France said. “A procedure such as a root canal that hasn’t been completed could prevent a soldier from deploying.”

Pregnancy tests are also part of the SRP process, said France. “We don’t want to deploy pregnant women.”

The command’s troops carried out two other SRPs for the brigade combat team, the first last June. “We’re anticipating the third and last SRP within the next five days,” France said Thursday.

Sending troops north to the SRPs has a big impact on the Army’s three medical clinics in lower South Korea, said Capt. Michael Gagnet, commanding officer of Company D, 168th Medical Battalion. Gagnet’s company operates clinics at camps Walker in Taegu, Hialeah in Pusan and Carroll in Waegwan.

“Our company alone sent 24 medics plus two doctors to the second SRP,” Gagnet said. And other companies within his battalion sent personnel, too.

“We canceled routine appointments at all three clinics for SRP 2, but we have maintained regular operations throughout this week,” Gagnet said.

Pfc. Daniel Farias, a medic in Gagnet’s company at the Camp Carroll clinic, is at Camp Casey this week — his third SRP there — and is getting a lot of hands-on experience. He gave immunizations at the last two SRPs.

“We had them all lined up based on what shots they needed,” he said of the brigade soldiers. “And they just go through one by one and we’d give them whatever shot we were assigned to give. For me it was anthrax and smallpox. They’d come to me, I’d give them their shot, and send them … to their next shot.

“I learned before how to give smallpox but I’d never given it really, and when I came here I gave more than 800 smallpox vaccines, so I’m pretty good at giving it now,” Farias said. “I’m learning a lot of new vaccines and other medical fields like optometry and pharmacy. So I’m learning a lot from different people.”

The brigade soldiers didn’t say much about going to Iraq, Farias said.

“Most of them don’t talk about it and I don’t want to bring it up to them because personally, if I were in their shoes I wouldn’t want to talk about it either.

“Normally, it’s ‘Yeah, going over to Iraq. Looking forward to it.’ Or, ‘It should be interesting. It should be fun. Hopefully, I won’t see any combat.’”


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