View Full Version : A doctor’s memories of Iraq, good and bad

10-04-04, 07:14 AM
Posted on Sun, Oct. 03, 2004

A doctor’s memories of Iraq, good and bad


Knight Ridder Newspapers

The bonds between the doctors, nurses, corpsmen and medics and the soldiers and Marines they treat and care for and weep for in a combat zone are as tight as those among fighting men themselves. They do jobs that no trigger-puller thinks he could do, day in and day out.

Lt. Cmdr. Heidi Kraft, a Navy doctor and a former flight surgeon, now a psychologist, just finished a seven-month deployment to Iraq with a surgical company treating wounded Marines. Last month she returned to her family and friends near Jacksonville, Fla. She came home to the 2-year-old twins she left with her husband while she fulfilled her duty.

Before she left Iraq, Kraft wrote an e-mail home summing up the good and the bad of that tour of duty. We reprint her words, her poetry, with her permission:

“As the days move very slowly by, just waiting (for a delayed charter flight home), I decided that one of the things I should work on for my own closure and healing is a list. The list would be a comparison: ‘Things That Were Good’ about Iraq and being deployed with the Marines and ‘Things That Were Not Good.’ Of course, it’s quite obvious that this list will be very lopsided. But I thought I would do it anyway, hoping that somehow the trauma, the fear, the grief, the laughter, the pride and the patriotism that have marked this long seven months for me will begin to make sense, through my writing.

“So here goes... in reverse order of importance...


“Sunset over the desert, almost always orange. Sunrise over the desert, almost always red. The childlike excitement of having fresh fruit at dinner after going weeks without it. Being allowed to be the kind of clinician I know I can be, and want to be, with no limits placed and no doubts expressed.

“But most of all, the United States Marines, our patients.

“Walking, every day, and having literally every single person who passes by say “Oo-Rah, Ma’am....” Having them tell us, one after the other, through blinding pain or morphine-induced euphoria: ‘When can I get out of here? I just want to get back to my unit....’

“Meeting a young sergeant, who had lost an eye in an explosion.... He asked his surgeon if he could open the other one.... When he did, he sat up and looked at the young Marines from his fire team who were being treated for superficial shrapnel wounds in the next room....

“He smiled, laid back down, and said, ‘I only have one good eye, Doc, but I can see that my Marines are OK.’

“And of course, meeting the one who threw himself on a grenade to save the men at his side... who will likely be the first Medal of Honor recipient in over 11 years....

“My friends... some of them will be life-long in a way that is indescribable.

“My patients... some of them had courage unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

“My comrades, Alpha Surgical Company... some of the things witnessed will traumatize them forever, but still they provided outstanding care to these Marines, day in and day out, sometimes for days at a time with no break, for seven endless months.

“And last, but not least...

“Holding the hand of that dying Marine.


“Terrifying camel spiders, poisonous scorpions, flapping bats in the darkness, howling, territorial wild dogs, flies that insisted on landing on our faces, giant, looming mosquitoes, invisible sand flies that carry leishmaniasis.

“132 degrees.

“Wearing long sleeves, full pants and combat boots in 132 degrees. Random and totally predictable power outages that led to sweating throughout the night. Sweating in places I didn’t know I could sweat, like wrists, and ears.

“The roar of helicopters overhead. The resounding thud of exploding artillery in the distance.

“The popping of gunfire...

“Not knowing if any of the above sounds is a good thing, or bad thing. The siren, and the inevitable ‘big voice’ yelling at us to take cover. Not knowing if that siren was on someone’s DVD or if the big voice would soon follow. The cracking sound of giant artillery rounds splitting open against rock and dirt. The rumble of the ground. The shattering of the windows...

“Hiding under flak jackets and Kevlar helmets, away from the broken windows, waiting to be told we can come to the hospital... to treat the ones who were not so lucky.

“Watching the helicopter with the big Red Cross on the side landing at our pad. Worse, watching Marine helicopters filled with patients landing at our pad... because we usually did not realize they were coming.

“Ushering a sobbing Marine colonel away from the trauma bay while several of his Marines bled and cried out in pain inside. Meeting that 21-year-old Marine with three Purple Hearts, and listening to him weep because he felt ashamed of being afraid to go back.

“Telling a room full of stunned Marines in blood-soaked uniforms that their comrade, who they had tried to save, had just died of his wounds. Trying, as if in total futility, to do anything I could to ease the trauma of group after group that suffered loss after loss, grief after inconsolable grief.

“Washing blood off the boots of one of our young nurses while she told me about the one who bled out in the trauma bay, and then the one who she had to tell, when he pleaded for the truth, that his best friend didn’t make it.

“Listening to another of our nurses tell of the Marine who came in talking, telling her his name, about how she pleaded with him not to give up, told him that she was there for him, about how she could see his eyes go dull when he couldn’t fight any longer.

“And last, but not least...

“Holding the hand of that dying Marine.”

Welcome home, Dr. Heidi. Thank you for your service to our country.

Mr. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. Readers may write to him at: Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington DC 20005-3994.



10-05-04, 07:50 AM
Tourniquet saves corpsman’s life
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 20041047233
Story by Lance Cpl. Miguel A. Carrasco Jr.

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Sep. 23, 2004) -- A corpsman knows the value of a tourniquet. To him it is more than a piece of cloth; it can mean the difference between life and death.

Shrapnel from an improvised explosive device hit Seaman Joseph D. Worley, a corpsman with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, as he was giving aid to Marines wounded during a rocket propelled grenade attack Sept. 17 near Fallujah.

"I was running to the first vehicle that got hit by an RPG to provide medical care and to put out the small fires that were all over the injured Marines and their gear," said Worley, 23, a native of Dallas, Ga.

Even as chaos erupted around Worley, he wasted no time getting to the Marines who were in need of a corpsman. When Worley reached them he was hit with shrapnel from an IED. He sustained injuries to both legs and other areas of his body. Remaining levelheaded, Worley applied a tourniquet to his left leg while also caring for the wounded Marines.

When it comes to dealing with the destruction that an IED can deliver on unsuspecting troops, Worley is not a rookie.

"I have assisted Marines in about eight other IED attacks, including the Labor Day vehicle-borne IED, which killed seven Marines, " said Worley.

With his knowledge of IED injuries Worley knew his wounds were too severe to save his leg. He did what was necessary to save his life while also continuing to help save the lives of the injured Marines.

Despite the severity of Worley's injuries his spirits remained high, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael T. Meaney, a corpsman with 2/1. The whole way back to the surgical company, Worley had a smile on his face. He came into Bravo Surgical Company yelling out, "Hoorah!"

Meaney, 23, a native of Houston, focused on keeping Worley conscious by asking him questions.

"Meaney was asking me about my family, telling me not to worry about it, that I was heading home to my family," Worley said, referring to his wife, Angel, and his newborn baby daughter.

Worley is alive because of his own quick actions. Although he received surgery to amputate his leg, he could have lost more if he hadn't used a tourniquet, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael T. Mazurek, an orthopedic surgeon with Bravo Surgical Company, Combat Service Support Battalion 15, 1st Force Service Support Group.

Mazurek was the head surgeon who conducted the operation. The procedure took about two and half hours with very little complications, according to Mazurek.

From the time of the explosion until the completion of the surgery, Worley had lost close to one and a half liters of blood. This was a problem that had to be dealt with immediately.

"Once we knew his blood type was A negative, finding the donor to match his blood type became the next step in the process," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jaime G. India, a lab technician with Bravo Surgical Company, CSSB -15.

The lab technicians had a list of Marines and Sailors based in Camp Fallujah that listed their blood type and location.

"We were able to find two blood donors who matched and were a part of the Bravo Surgical Company, but we still needed one more match," said India, 26, a native of Los Angeles.

The rare blood type made it difficult to find the third necessary match to save Worley's life. Eventually a match was found, but due to the length of time it takes to draw blood, the surgical company decided to get him on the first available flight to Baghdad.

He left Camp Fallujah in stable condition. From Baghdad, Worley was relocated to Landstul, Germany, where he received further medical treatment.

Looking back on the chain of events and how they unfolded, Worley realized the importance of having the knowledge and confidence to use the equipment he carried to the battlefield.

"If I had not applied the tourniquet, I would have died. I think that every Marine and Sailor out there should have a tourniquet as part of their gear requirement, and keep it somewhere accessible," said Worley.


Bravo Surgical Company located on Camp Fallujah is where Navy Seaman Joseph D. Worley, a hospital corpsman, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division was taken to after sustaining injuries from an improvised explosive device that went off Sept. 17. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Miguel A. Carrasco Jr.



10-16-04, 11:45 AM
USO Honors Military Heroes at Gala Event
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2004 -- Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan P. Dementer, a hospital corpsman, does not consider himself a hero. He says he was just "doing his job" when he treated 31 Marines wounded during an attack on their battalion command center in Iraq.

The United Service Organizations disagrees with Dementer's assessment of his heroic actions. The USO honored the corpsman and four other enlisted men, one from each service branch, at the 2004 USO Gala here Oct. 14.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs vice chairman, and top officer and enlisted personnel from each of the services, as well as numerous entertainment celebrities, saluted the heroes.

Myers said the five servicemember heroes represent all the men and women in the armed forces. "And I would submit that they're all heroes," he said.

USO President Edward A. Powell presented the 2004 Service Hero of the Year awards to Dementer, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Laurence D. Nettles, Army Sgt. Christopher David Holbrook, Marine Sgt. Nicanor A. Galvan, and Air Force Senior Airman Nicholas P. Semonelle.

"I can't imagine how I got chosen," said Dementer, of Gladstone, Mich. "It's such an honor to be able to be here tonight, just for doing my job.

"As a corpsmen going out with the Marines, we train to go out and patch people up and get them back into the fight," he said. "To get an award for going out with a unit such as 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines -- this is awesome."

Dementer had been in Iraq for about a month when insurgents attacked the unit's command headquarters. USO officials honored Dementer for his courage under fire, leading directly to the life-saving treatment and the evacuation of 31 Marines.

Although wounded, Dementer provided medical care to others and, without regard for his own safety or his own injuries, went to another part of the compound to treat a group of Marines pinned down under enemy fire, according to information provided in the event program. While under attack, he administered treatment, stabilizing their injuries, and coordinating their evacuation.

Dementer's combat experience has deepened his commitment to his cohorts. He said he expects to again deploy with the Marines either to Afghanistan or Iraq sometime in the future. "I'm proud to serve with the Marines," he said. "I can't imagine doing anything else. I love my job."

Dementer's wife, Jerri, said she's always been proud of her husband. "Now I'm just glad the rest of the world can see what a great guy he is," she said. If Dementer deploys again, she said, "then I will always support him and stay here and take care of the kids and love him and pray for him to come home safely."

Dementer is now assigned to the Naval Hospital Corps School, Great Lakes, Ill.

The Coast Guard's Nettles, a nine-year veteran, echoed Dementer's sentiments about being a hero. "I feel like I'm being spoiled for just doing my job," he said. "I couldn't imagine a job more rewarding than being a helicopter rescue swimmer."

The USO honored Nettles for his skill and bravery while rescuing passengers from a sinking vessel during a hurricane. He fought heavy seas to rescue two passengers, and even though he and a third survivor were pushed under water by a breaking wave, he was able to regain control and rescue the third survivor. He then returned and rescued the last survivor.

Nettles said he spent 45 minutes in the water that day. "It was very windy, rainy, zero visibility in a helicopter," he said. "(The) seas had about 20- to 30-foot waves, and it was pretty ugly."

Nettles, a self-proclaimed "government brat" whose home is where he "rests his rump," said he swims about 1,000 yards a day, runs three to five miles, and lifts weights for an hour. He plans on making the Coast Guard his career. "They'll have to physically force me out," he said.

The USO also honored the Army's Holbrook, an infantry team leader from St. Paul, Minn., for his selfless and courageous actions in saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.

While a member of a squad providing escort duties for a civilian team working to restore oil production in Iraq, the convoy Holbrook was escorting was ambushed, according to information in the event program. Although seriously wounded, he continued to drive when the convoy was ambushed again. By this time, seven of the ten soldiers in the convoy had been wounded. Despite his injuries, Holbrook continued driving, breaking through the ambush zone and making it back to base so the wounded could get medical treatment.

"We didn't just drive through the ambush," he said. "We got out, and we killed a bunch of the insurgents. Luckily, I think because we did react, we didn't die."

When military officials examined the area after the attack, he said, they found four daisy-chain unexploded improvised explosive devices right next to the road.

"Either we killed one of the guys that was going to set off the IED," Holbrook said, "or we caused chaos and confusion because the majority of the units over there, when they react to an ambush, they drive through it. We got out. We reacted. We took a toll on the enemy. Even though the seven of us were wounded, we still did the job."

Holbrook, who's slated to deploy to Afghanistan in February or March, said "it's good to be an infantry team leader in the Army, seeing policy first hand, because you're influencing things over there."

Holbrook noted that he appreciates the USO's honor on behalf of his fellow soldiers and the organization's efforts to support the troops. Holbrook is assigned to 2nd Airborne Battle Group, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy.

The USO also honored the Marine Corps' Galvan, of Waco, Texas, for inspiring and saving the lives of his fellow Marines. When his company was ordered to clear the battalion's advance to Baghdad, Galvan's platoon was able to close in on the enemy while enemy fire pinned down the rest of the company. The first to rush forward under heavy sniper fire, according to USO officials, he led his squad by example, giving them the courage to close in on and destroy the enemy position.

Galvan, a six-year Marine veteran, is now a combat instructor at the School of Infantry, Combat Marine Training Battalion, at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He said he advises his students to "always be at the alert, ready to go, set the example, look alert, and be ready for anything."

The Air Force's Semonelle was honored for his unhesitating courage in saving the lives of two children.

Seeing smoke coming from a home and learning that children were trapped inside, Semonelle entered the burning structure and began a systematic search to try to find the children. He rescued one child and, without hesitation and regard for his own personal safety, risked his life to go back inside the home, now ablaze and filled with smoke, to locate and rescue the second child.

Semonelle is assigned to 435th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

In a letter to the USO included in the gala's program, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the nonprofit organization has been a link between the American people and the nation's fighting forces for more than 60 years.

The secretary noted the USO has opened centers in Qatar and Kuwait and will soon open another in Afghanistan. The new center will be dedicated to ex- National Football League star Pat Tillman, who left professional football to join the Army Rangers and was killed in action in Afghanistan.



10-26-04, 08:17 AM
Marines learn to be Devil Docs
Submitted by: 1st Marine Division
Story Identification #: 2004101863415
Story by Lance Cpl. Miguel A. Carrasco Jr.

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Oct. 14, 2004) -- A convoy of Marines rolls through a small town. Suddenly, an explosion shakes the earth, and a plume of dirt and debris rockets skyward. The smoke clears to reveal Marines in need of medical attention.

The injured lay on the ground with no corpsman in sight. This is like a war movie and only one Marine has been cast as the lead role. That Marine must think back to his training and ask himself, "Do I know what to do?"

To ensure Marines know how to react if they encounter the above scenario, the Regimental Combat Team 1 Regimental Aid Station is conducting a combat aidsman course aboard Camp Fallujah.

The purpose of the course is to prepare Marines to assist corpsmen in providing first aid on the battlefield. Corpsmen know that if a high number of casualties are taken at once the injured Marines' odds of survival will increase if the corpsman is not the only one with this life saving knowledge.

"I want Marines to be able to save a life," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles P. Borrego with RAS, Headquarters Company, RCT-1. "If there are 30 Marines with the combat aidsman skills and only one corpsman, those Marines can spread out and react quicker than one of us."

The course stretches over a five-day period with two hours of instruction and practical application per day. The lessons focus on basic life saving techniques for the battlefield.

Borrego, the instructor for the course, teaches the classes from the Combat Aidsman Handbook, while mixing in stories and personal experiences of his own.
The fist lesson he teaches the class is that before a Marine even thinks of digging into a first aid kit to help those around him or himself, he must suppress the threat.

"The best medicine on the battlefield is fire superiority," said Borrego, 26, a native of Apple Valley, Calif. "The order of the tactical combat casualty care objectives is to complete the mission, prevent additional casualties and then treat the casualty."

Nearly 90 percent of war deaths occur in the combat zone before the casualty ever reaches a medical facility, according to the Combat Aidsman Handbook.

"There is no substitute for a first responder who can be at the scene of a traumatic injury, assess that injury and apply the correct life saving treatment," said Lt. Cmdr. Joseph F. Penta, the regimental surgeon for RCT-1.

Bleeding to death from extremity wounds accounts for 60 percent of battlefield deaths that possibly could have been prevented.

"By teaching Marines how to apply first aid to a fellow Marine, lives will be saved," said Penta, 34, a native of San Clemente, Calif. "Something as simple as
knowing how and when to put on a tourniquet can save a life."

The course introduces some new techniques, but mostly reinforces first aid skills that Marines were taught in basic training.

"These skills must be fresh in your mind while out in Iraq," said Lance Cpl. Ray A. DelBosque, 22, a native of Odessa, Texas, and an electrical optical technician with Headquarters Company, RCT-1. "You never know when you'll have to apply first aid to an injured Marine."

On the battlefield, medical facilities are non-existent and treatment can be limited. However, reacting to the situation quickly can mean the difference between life and death.

"Providing medical care and life saving techniques does not require a degree," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael J. Smith, 38, a native of Ridgecrest, Calif., and the RAS chief for RCT-1. "Anybody can take this course and immediately apply what they have learned in an emergency situation."

If the corpsman goes down or cannot get to the casualties, fellow Marines must be able to respond to the situation in a timely manner, said Borrego.

The class covers burns, combat stress, tactical triage, tourniquets, pressure dressings and other key first aid knowledge.

Out in the field any scenario is possible. Having the knowledge to deal with combat casualties should be an essential tool for every Marine.


Petty Officer 2nd class Charles P. Borrego, 26, a native of Apple Valley, Calif. and a field medical technician with Regimental Aid Station, Headquarters Company, Regimental Combat Team 1, shows his students at a Marine combat aidsman course how to apply a needle thoracentesis to an imaginary injured Marine on Oct. 14 in Camp Fallujah. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Miguel A. Carrasco Jr.