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Aid station personnel working for the 3rd Infantry Division's Task Force Baghdad conduct routine examinations and hold daily sick calls, but they're also set up to handle trauma stabilization. They'll treat victims of blast injuries, gunshot wounds, burns and vehicle accidents and evacuate severe cases to the Combat Support Hospital in the International Zone.

Aid station personnel working for the 3rd Infantry Division's Task Force Baghdad conduct routine examinations and hold daily sick calls, but they're also set up to handle trauma stabilization. They'll treat victims of blast injuries, gunshot wounds, burns and vehicle accidents and evacuate severe cases to the Combat Support Hospital in the International Zone. (Craig Zentkovich / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

Aid station personnel working for the 3rd Infantry Division's Task Force Baghdad conduct routine examinations and hold daily sick calls, but they're also set up to handle trauma stabilization. They'll treat victims of blast injuries, gunshot wounds, burns and vehicle accidents and evacuate severe cases to the Combat Support Hospital in the International Zone.

Aid station personnel working for the 3rd Infantry Division's Task Force Baghdad conduct routine examinations and hold daily sick calls, but they're also set up to handle trauma stabilization. They'll treat victims of blast injuries, gunshot wounds, burns and vehicle accidents and evacuate severe cases to the Combat Support Hospital in the International Zone. (Craig Zentkovich / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

Army Spc. Amber Bickford, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-3 Brigade Troops Battalion, 3rd ID, is a combat medic at the aid station on Forward Operating Base Loyalty, Iraq.

Army Spc. Amber Bickford, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-3 Brigade Troops Battalion, 3rd ID, is a combat medic at the aid station on Forward Operating Base Loyalty, Iraq. (Craig Zentkovich / Courtesy of U.S. Army)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq — Most injured soldiers don’t stay long at the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division’s medical treatment facility.

Troops who pass through the center are either on their way to the Combat Support Hospital for more extensive care, or they’re headed back to the fight.

“We act as a clearinghouse,” said Capt. Laura DePalma of Grayling, Mich., Company C commander of the 26th Forward Support Battalion. “We make sure we don’t evacuate anyone unnecessarily to a higher level. It’s a combat mission every time we roll out, and it also takes [soldiers] out of the fight. So we manage that pretty closely.”

Rustamiyah’s medical center, which serves about 2,500 soldiers, has a staff of four doctors, three physician assistants and two dentists who remain in constant demand. It is a level II trauma center, which means it provides comprehensive trauma care, conducts routine sick calls and medical examinations on a daily basis and stabilizes patients needing more extensive medical care at other facilities.

Capt. Kevin Weymss, a physician assistant for Company C, said medical personnel also treat detainees brought to the base, with full screenings performed prior to — and after — interrogation.

The facility was established in an old Iraqi air base hospital, according to 1st Sgt. Samuel Luna of Fort Bragg, N.C. When U.S. forces moved in, they discovered most of the equipment was dilapidated and beyond repair.

Army officials, however, managed to salvage certain items — including X-ray machines, operating room equipment and medicines — and distributed those to Iraqi medical centers throughout the capital.

“Instead of collecting dust, whatever we could fix, we put it to good use,” Luna said. “It worked out pretty good, and built up our relationship with the community and medical profession in general.”

In the first month of a yearlong deployment, the medical staff treated about 700 people, including U.S. and Iraqi soldiers, Defense Department civilians and Iraqi citizens. The majority sought help for minor ailments, DePalma said.

Over the same span, doctors dealt with 10 to 12 trauma cases, she estimated, which stemmed from vehicle accidents, roadside bombs, gunshot wounds or work-related accidents. Those casualties almost always get airlifted to larger facilities.

Dr. (Capt.) Jeremy Edwards, who works for the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, is one of the center’s two physicians.

“My job is to be bored,” he said. “If I’m not bored, we’re in trouble.”

DePalma credits use of safety gear such as seat belts, protective eyewear, armor and combat earplugs for the relatively low number of trauma incidents so far.

“Better combat equipment is saving lives,” she said. “If we didn’t have that, I’m sure the casualty count would be a lot greater than what it is.”


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