The following is the first of what will hopefully be a series of updates, and answers to questions, by Dr. Jon, a good friend of mine, and brother in Christ, serving in Iraq. If you have any questions for him, be sure to leave them in the comments section, and I will forward them to him. Thank you, and God bless you all.
Update from Iraq
By Dr. Jon,
I am currently on active duty in Iraq serving as an orthopedic surgeon and member of the US Army Reserves Medical Corps. This is my second deployment in the past 18 months. My first was to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. This deployment is for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) 2, the rebuilding phase of the war in Iraq. I am assigned to a Combat Support Hospital (CSH) located in the north-central region.
Since deploying to Iraq, I have received many questions from individuals back home regarding my experiences here. The purpose of this letter in addressing some of these questions is to provide not only an update of my situation but also some perspective on the current war-related events in Iraq.
Question 1. What is your typical day like?
My daily schedule and work environment are similar to my experience in Afghanistan. A typical day includes early morning exercise (to take advantage of the cooler temperatures), morning rounds, scheduled surgeries (usually 2-3 per day), and orthopedic clinic. Meals prepared by a civilian contractor are served at our hospital dining facility. Our work day is usually done by late afternoon, though we remain on call 24/7 for any incoming trauma patients.
Question 2. What types of injuries are you treating?
Our hospital provides a wide spectrum of medical services. We treat US, coalition, and Iraq patients alike. My service is limited to orthopedic conditions ranging from minor sprains and strains, to overuse injuries, to severe extremity trauma. As a result of protective body armor, most combat related injuries primarily involve the extremities. Given the tactics of the ongoing insurgency, most of these result from IEDs (improvised explosive device)—roadside bombs and suicide bombers—and gunshots.
Question 3. How do you cope with the nature of your job in a combat zone?
Living and working in a combat zone requires preparation, precaution, and professionalism. Our duty is to provide each patient, regardless of nationality, with the best medical care possible. It is never easy to see individuals with severe injuries, no matter how commonplace in this environment. However, efficient and effective treatment leaves no room for an emotional response. There is often opportunity for personal interaction later, once the patient is stabilized. For non-English speaking patients, our interpreters play an essential role.
Question 4. Can you describe a high point and low point of your experience so far?
The low point of my experience here occurs with every individual loss of life or limb.
The high points occur with each successful treatment. One recent “success story” is a middle aged Iraqi man who suffered a severe blast injury to his lower leg. By the end of his prolonged hospital stay, after undergoing multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, he returned home on his own power. As of sign of his trust and appreciation, he offered us gifts and has maintained ongoing correspondence.
Question 5. How is the morale of the soldiers?
I have met many soldiers serving various roles in OIF 2, and with few exceptions morale is positive. Most soldiers here believe in their mission; they believe our forces have and will continue to make a positive difference in this country. I am most impressed with the attitude and commitment of our combat soldiers, who face danger and adversity on a daily basis. Their level of maturity seems beyond their young ages. On occasion, when counseling an injured soldier about the need for medical evacuation and further treatment, I’ve witnessed expressions of disappointment and even reluctance to leave his unit and mission behind.
I am proud to serve with the men and women of our armed forces. Politics aside, it disappoints me to see so much negative press about our military efforts here in Iraq. Our soldiers and their families are making tremendous sacrifices to serve our country, to protect our freedom, and to give the people of Iraq a chance for freedom. Despite the ongoing insurgency, likely to escalade before the elections, our soldiers working with coalition and Iraqi forces continue to make remarkable progress rebuilding the infra-structure of Iraq, supporting and protecting the interim government, and preparing for a nationwide democratic election. They need and deserve our support.
Question 6. How do the Iraqis feel about the war and the current situation in their country?
I’ve asked this question of many of the Iraqi’s that I’ve met at our hospital, both patients and employees. Granted this is a small number of individuals with potential bias, their responses have been consistently positive in support of our US and coalition forces. They report that although the sentiment of the Iraqi people varies by region of the country, the majority appreciate their opportunity for freedom, understand and accept the necessary sacrifices, and remain hopeful for a better future.