Changing names of Iraq camps causing problems for air evacuation teams
BAGHDAD — Baghdad’s Green Zone, now known as the International Zone, may be the best-known name change of a major coalition base.
But other U.S. camps around Iraq are shifting monikers also, which air evacuation teams say is causing them problems when they are trying to fly wounded troops out of danger.
“They should just pick names, and have someone say, ‘OK, that’s it,’” said Sgt. Donald Marten, a medic for the 45th Medical Company (Air Ambulance) from Ansbach, Germany, who are now in Tallil, Iraq. “No more changes.”
Although pilots use ground controllers and grid coordinates to help them get to their destinations, air evacuation pilots memorize basic routes to various camps in their sectors.
Flying skills save lives because severely wounded patients must receive crucial care before “the golden hour” ends, trauma medical staffs said. If a patient can get to a well-equipped critical-care facility within 60 minutes, his chances of survival are drastically improved.
So for air evacuation flight crews in Iraq, every minute counts.
It takes about seven minutes for the 45th to get a helicopter off the ground. Flight time to a casualty averages seven minutes, and it takes another seven minutes to get to the hospital in Baghdad’s International Zone, according to one of the 45th’s pilots-in-charge, Capt. Gerald Bonner.
So having to go back and check with a flight coordinator to make sure that the crew is flying to the camp it thinks it’s supposed to be going — only to find it is headed for the wrong place — can cost precious minutes and possibly lives, the air crews said.
But crews have no say over when a base can change its name, which could be for a number of reasons.
For example, Forward Operating Base Headhunter in Baghdad is now officially FOB Independence, according to Capt. Victor Scharstein, a spokesman for the 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment.
Task force leaders decided to change the name “to something less aggressive-sounding,” Scharstein said.
But one specialist with the 153rd Infantry of the Arkansas National Guard, which is part of the 1-9 Cavalry, said he is “not crazy” about the new name.
“We [patrol] one of the worst sectors in Baghdad,” Haifa Street, where attacks on U.S. convoys are so common they are the rule whenever troops venture out on missions, not the exception, the specialist said.
The soldier, who did not give his name, said changing the name of a camp is not going to change the way insurgents view the U.S. military: “I don’t think it is going to make them suddenly decide, ‘Oh, OK, they’re cool.’”
Other posts are going through a re-labeling because the original name came from Operation Iraqi Freedom I units, which have since headed home.
Those early names may have plenty of historical meaning to their occupants, such as the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment’s “Camp Muleskinner” in Baghdad, but not to their successors.
Furthermore, some camps have their names changed to honor troops killed in Iraq.
For example, Camp Muleskinner was renamed Camp Cuervo by the 2nd ACR in honor of Pfc. Rey D. Cuervo of the unit’s 1st Squadron, who died Dec. 28.
Two 1st Cavalry soldiers said Wednesday they think that any camps named after fallen troops should honor soldiers or Marines who are part of units currently deployed. But the soldiers asked not to be named because they did not want to seem disrespectful of their comrades’ sacrifice, regardless of the unit.
Finally, if some senior officers and coalition officials in Iraq have their way, all the coalition bases in Iraq may adopt English transliterations of Arabic names (not Arabic script), said one 1st Cavalry staff officer who asked not to be named.
Advocates of the change believe that locals would be more comfortable and feel less “occupied” if coalition bases had Arabic monikers, the officer said.
While the idea is in the preliminary “kicking it around” stage, the officer said the notion concerns him.
“You think it’s confusing now,” he said. “Arabic is a difficult language for most of us. We are still struggling with the basic [Arabic phrases].”
“Change the bases to ‘al-whatever-this’ or ‘al-whatever-that’ … .” He shuddered.