HEIDELBERG, Germany — On the same day at least nine car bombs exploded in Iraq killing more than 150 people and injuring hundreds more, troops from the 30th Medical Brigade gathered for a farewell ceremony just days ahead of their second yearlong deployment to Baghdad.

“Our mission is simple,” said the brigade commander, Col. Steven Swann, speaking at the ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the Army hospital parade ground in Heidelberg. “We are deploying to provide the absolute highest level of medical care to American sons and daughters and coalition forces that are wounded or sick on the battlefields of Iraq.

“No one,” he said, “has a more honorable mission than ours.”

Some 122 members of the brigade headquarters company will be deploying in about two weeks, along with some 200 troops of the 226th Medical Logistics Battalion, from Miesau, shortly thereafter. Their orders say they will stay 365 days or until their mission is complete.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, V Corps commander, told the troops that they were fighting terrorism in Iraq to prevent more attacks on the U.S., and that in Iraq “a new era of freedom looms prominently on the horizon.”

But, he said, “For those of you who’ve been there before — this situation will be very different. … Never underestimate this enemy.”

For almost 75 percent of the brigade headquarters company, this will be their second Iraq rotation, said Staff Sgt. Felix Ramos, a chaplain’s assistant. Ramos was in Iraq when his daughter, now 2, was born. She didn’t know who he was when he returned. He hopes she will remember him this time.

Ramos said he was more nervous about going to Iraq the first time. But having already been there and because the unit had more time to train and prepare this go-around, Ramos said, “This time, I’m more confident.”

The brigade, which replaces the 44th Medical Command, oversees three Army combat support hospitals and an Air Force hospital. Swann said the brigade was among the factors in what he said was the best, fastest evacuation of wounded troops “than at any time in history.”

Swann, trained as a surgeon, also said that wounded soldiers who make it to U.S. combat support hospitals in Iraq have a 99 percent chance of survival.

There were no casualties of 30th Medical Brigade troops in their last year in Iraq. At Wednesday’s ceremony, there were no promises that that would happen this time.

“This sacred mission requires sacrifice from all of us, and I expect will demand the ultimate sacrifice from a very few,” said Swann.

At hearing that, “Everybody got their eyebrows up,” Ramos said. “This is a reality check.”

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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