Navy nurse from Norfolk honored for efforts in helping treat Syrian partners
By KATHERINE HAFNER | The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot | Published: July 6, 2020
NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Earlier this year, Lt. Sharrod Greene was pulled into a superior’s office at the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. He knew it must be something serious for top officials to be involved, but he couldn’t think what he might have done wrong.
Instead, Greene, 35, a nurse anesthetist, learned he was this year’s Hero of Military Medicine — a national award given by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.
“There’s no way to describe how I felt at that moment,” he said in an interview with The Virginian-Pilot. “The exhilaration, the pride, the humility.”
Greene has served in the Navy for 16 years and most recently was the anesthesia department’s division officer at the Portsmouth center.
But the actions for which he received the award came a world away. Last year, he was sent to support an Army surgical team in Syria, where he saw more than 150 patients in three months.
Next to a major Syrian oil field, Green Village is an outpost where U.S. troops reside in former oil industry villas, according to the Washington Post.
That’s where Greene was sent last January.
“Broadly speaking, the mission was to provide damage control,” said Greene, who lives in Norfolk.
Many of the patients were members of the Syrian Defense Forces, which had partnered with the U.S. to defeat Islamic State. Within Greene’s first 24 hours in Syria, the team he was working with received three casualties. But he remembers his first emotion being “an overwhelming sense of optimism.”
That’s because they “had triage and trauma down to a science and they worked so well as a team,” he said.
“By the time I’d gotten there, they’d already built this cohesive team … They had a laid out system for receiving casualties, treating them and transporting them out,” said Greene, adding “the environment was truly conducive to saving lives.”
Most injuries they saw were penetrating, he said. Gunshots and shrapnel wounds from explosions were common.
The caseload included such surgeries as exploratory laparotomies, below-knee amputations, chest tube placements, tissue or object removals from lower extremities and vascular shunts. It was Greene’s job to administer anesthesia to patients.
Greene had trained for a few weeks in California before his deployment to acclimate to stressful clinical situations.
“But when you’re talking about (being) prepared for seeing the type of traumas and casualties I saw, no, I wasn’t prepared for that, because I’d never seen that before”
While in Syria, they were “on alert at all times for incoming trauma.” Often that meant huge bright lights and sirens or screams early in the morning.
Upon his return to Virginia last June, he said, “I found myself occasionally waking up in the middle of the night hearing sirens, only to remember that I was no longer in Green Village.”
That has subsided since.
Greene had joined the military at 18, inspired by in his family, including his father, a retired Navy chief petty officer. He was born in Brooklyn but finished high school in Missouri.
“After attending a summer and one semester at the University of Missouri, I decided that I needed to get out of Columbia and (get) some structure in life,” he said.
He celebrated his 19th birthday during boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill. In the years since, he’s been stationed around the world, including Pensacola, Fla., Japan and Naval Station Norfolk. He’s deployed to Iraq and on the now-decommissioned Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier.
First, he served as an aviation electronics technician. After a conversation with his grandmother, who’d been in the medical field for four decades, he felt encouraged to change career paths within the military.
He shadowed a nurse anesthetist on base and “decided that’s what I wanted to do,” completing nursing school in three years, then anesthesia school.
Greene said he was drawn to the role of nurse anesthetist because of “the level of independence and autonomy they had.”
“Once I got to nursing school, I went to go observe a surgery and I honestly don’t even remember what the surgery was because I was so enthralled to be in the operating room with the anesthesia provider,” he said. “You could tell there was a much higher level of thought. … It’s more from a therapeutic, comfort standpoint rather than actually doing medicine standpoint. There’s no better job in the world.”
For the award, the recipient normally travels to Washington for a ceremony, but that wasn’t possible because of the pandemic. Greene said he has received congratulations from everyone he knows, from Hampton Roads to the team he worked with in Syria.
He said he wishes he could share the title with that whole group.
“There’s no way I could have done any of that without the team that was there.”
Last week, Greene checked out of the Portsmouth hospital and is now attached to the operational Fleet Surgical Team 2, which can help a ship’s medical staff during deployments.
“So it’s possible that I’ll have to put some of my experience to work again.”