Medevacs & Medics, Angels of Mercy
By Ed Marek, editor
March 17, 2012
Our wounded will not walk their journey alone!
How often have you heard a report that a roadside bomb exploded near an American convoy, with one soldier wounded. Thank God, you think, no one killed. But wait, there was one wounded. Next time you hear such a report, stop for a moment to ponder what that word, "wounded," might mean. Are we talking about a few minor cuts from flying debris, or are we talking about limbs blown away and shrapnel lodged in a soldier's head? But there is far more, even than that. When an American soldier is wounded, there is a massive apparatus from the scene of the explosion all the way to hospitals in the US prepared to kick into action, including the family of the downed trooper. And, there often is a long, extraordinarily tough, struggle-filled journey this soldier will travel. A mother of a wounded soldier has suggested that to understand what the word "wounded" means, it is essential to understand what happens to the men and women who are wounded in battle from the moment the shockwaves hit, forward. This article will try to acquaint you with some of that. We will also echo the words of a mother: "To all our Wounded Warriors: Know that through the support and prayers of family and friends, we won't let you walk this journey alone! God Bless."
That's the medal, the Purple Heart. It is an American decoration, established by General George Washington, the oldest military decoration in the world in present use and the first American award made available to the common soldier. It is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration. A wounded soldier is not recommended for this award. He or she is entitled to it.
These Marines are carrying a wounded comrade. Look at these men. They're movin' with certain dispatch. There's a serious, determined, worried look on each face, they've got to save their buddy, they've got to keep moving. There's a story for every wounded soldier that starts with troopers like these, the first responders, and goes all the way to their buddy making it home to sit again on the front porch, in one form or another. There is a host of people, up and down the line, who will help get that soldier to his or her porch in as good shape as is humanly possible. But that soldier's journey does not end there, and we Americans cannot let that soldier walk the rest of that journey be alone. Such absence is not allowed.
“What is the hardest part of my job? The hardest part of my job is also the best part of my job --- being with a dying soldier. I never understood what 'An angel with a face' meant until my arrival in Baghdad. We are the last ones that they see and the last voice they hear. It is our privilege to ensure that they are pain free in their last hours, that they are not alone and are never forgotten.”
Lt. Grivicic's remarks reflect a spirituality of her noble calling, a kind of humanity so commonly found among those who care for our wounded and dying soldiers in battle.
This kind of compassion is immensely important to our soldiers.
“I wish to express my tremendous gratitude for the gift of purest compassion and healing an angel brought to us in Vietnam. I was wounded in combat by a trip wire booby trap that detonated a grenade, that in turn detonated an artillery round. I felt first hand the selfless sacrifices and humanity of Sharon's nursing sisters, bearing a most noble calling in the nursing corps that serves the U.S. military. I am forever indebted for their tender mercies at a time I was deprived of love, fallen destitute and abandoned, feeling only cold heat of war's savagery, in peril of very life itself. Sharon Ann Lane truly epitomized that unselfish healing I received. She tenderly administered to the slings and arrows of that most terrible beast called war. She gave of her very essence in this greatest act of love, meting out her healing to nourish and restore not only abundant physical wounds, but also by her goodness assuaging insidious mental afflictions that a treacherous war implants in the minds of 'boys next door.'”
If you talk to American veterans, it is likely that you will hear a chorus of criticism about how we Americans treat our wounded. Edward W. Wood, Jr., of Denver, a veteran of D-Day still walking with a piece of shrapnel in his pelvic area, commented on Veteran's Day 2003 for the Denver Post this way:
“What amazes us (he and a friend wounded in the Pacific) is how little attention is paid to those soldiers who are wounded in combat, some 1,700 so far in the war in Iraq (current statistics a year later say close to 8,000). Often not even the number of wounded is mentioned in the media, and there are few reports on how and where they were hit. We so seldom hear much about the real impact of shell and rifle fire on the wounded, almost as if they were only a statistic, a number, not flesh. We know down to the very heart of us that the wounded in war seldom escape the burden they must carry for the rest of their lives.
“For long years, we were cripples, barely functioning at the edge of society, holding on to a cliff with raw fingernails, knowing that, at any moment, we could drop into the deepest and blackest void. Finally, beyond those long and terrifying days and nights, we slowly straightened ourselves out and began our belated careers… But even now, we are both still haunted by the memory of our wounds. The impact of a wound received in combat lasts for life: it never leaves. Our wounds, they changed our lives in so many ways that we never became the men we might have been.
“The howls of pain from our wounded soldiers in Iraq fills us with rage and tears, young men and women maimed for life as we were, the real consequences of a Purple Heart. Our rage is over American insensitivity to what goes on each day and night in vicious firefights in Iraq, where our soldiers are killed and wounded, while we sit back to our coffees at Starbucks, our martinis, our bottles of wine, our tax cuts. Our tears are for the suffering that those young men and women will inevitably know for the rest of their lives.”
Thomas Yarber, an Army lieutenant colonel, registered nurse, and the deputy commander of the Army's 31st Combat Support Hospital (CSH), in Iraq in 2004, seems to agree with this WWII D-Day vet. He was asked recently what he would like Americans to know about the work his nurses are doing at the hospital's facility in Baghdad. He responded this way:
“In the news, you hear about the number of soldiers killed, but you don't hear about the number wounded. We take care of these wounded soldiers so they can go home and be with their families. I want Americans to know that our nurses are here with those soldiers, that our nurses are with them if they die. My nurses are here, holding their hands.”
There is much to think about when thinking about the wounded. There actually has been a lot written about our wounded. There is much to learn about them right here, on the internet. That noted, it might be better argued that we as a nation don't pay close enough attention, and then, there is the question whether we respond sufficiently even when we do pay attention.
The first place to start for those of us on the outside of combat is to think about this question:
“What does the term 'wounded' mean to you?”
A mother of a wounded soldier has suggested that to understand what that word means, it is essential to understand what has happened to the men and women who are wounded in battle. Let's try to do that.
“There can be no place worse on Earth, and none better, than the 31st Combat Support Hospital (CSH) in Baghdad. In the intensive care unit, service members lie silent and sedated, their breathing aided by respirators. They were hit by roadside bombs, mortars and, for one, a tank gun barrel that swung around while he was driving past atop his Humvee. The barrel smashed squarely into his face and shattered every single bone. Every day, patients come off the helicopters and through the doors of the CSH (pronounced 'cash') in an unending stream of such terrible injuries that, in former wars, they would surely have died. The hospital staff has worked long hours and saved many young lives. But it has taken a toll. 'The injuries are devastating,' said Capt. Leslie Goodwin, a nurse in the intensive care unit. 'There's no way you can be here and go back home the same.'
“ ‘We're exposed to every bad thing that happens every day in Iraq,' said Lt. Col. Steve Smith, CSH executive officer. 'People in the CSH are just a little overwhelmed. And there's no let-up in sight.'
“ ‘It's the injuries and the number of injuries and the mass casualties,' said Maj. Van McCoy, head nurse on the intermediate care ward. 'Some of the soldiers have nightmares, and it's hard on everyone. I've heard a lot of comments: 'When is it going to stop?'”
Lt. Col. Tobert Carroll, an eye surgeon from Waynesville, Missouri, is quoted saying:
“We're saving more people than should be saved, probably. We're saving severely injured people. Legs. Eyes. Part of the brain … We can save you. You might not be what you were."
Lt. Col. Joseph Helminiak, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), wrote in an e-mail on April 12:
“I've been an RN for 29 years and a CRNA for 10. I thought I'd seen and done it all. I never, never anticipated how I would feel with the blood of battle from these soldiers on my hands. I pray everyday that I can find the strength and skill to give them the care they so richly deserve. The pace here has approached an insane level, we have had multiple MASCALS [mass casualties alerts]. Very little sleep, every soldier from the lowest ranked enlisted to the highest ranked officers moving as fast as they can to try and save soldiers… It's heart-wrenching to see these young soldiers. A lot of times they just want to know when they can go back to their buddies. It makes me very proud to be doing what I am.”
U.S. Army Stryker armored vehicles arrive at the site of a roadside bomb attack in the northern Iraq city of Mosul, October 2, 2004. Photo credit: Namir Noor-Eldeen, Reuters
An operating room (OR) nurse, 1st Lt. Alexander Misiewicz, told “Nursing Spectrum” that explosive devices are the major culprit in creating the kinds of trauma being seen in modern warfare. Misiewicz is right.
A burning U.S. military vehicle is pulled back to a base after a roadside bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq , Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004. Photo credit: Hadi Mizban, AP
The character of war seems to be changing. The enemy is not so much fighting a shooting war to win on the battlefield. Instead, the enemy is fighting an explosion war to maim our soldiers with a view toward severely impacting troop and national morale.
Explosives are nothing new to war. They have done enormous damage to soldiers for centuries. Today, our troops are wearing superb body armor and Kevlar helmets. One result is that it is very hard to take down one of our soldiers through a shot to the head, chest or abdomen, especially for terrorists and militia who do not have good training.
Artillery shell-based IEDs hidden in bags along roads, courtesy of Global Security
These things called the improvised explosive device (IED), car bomb, and suicide bombers are able to inflict enormous damage to our soldiers, however. These weapons do not have to be pinpoint to do their damage. Explosions create enough overpressure to damage eyes, hearing and the brain, even if not a direct hit.
A burning U.S. armored vehicle, following heavy clashes in the center of Baghdad, September 12, 2004. Photo credit: Aladin Abdel Naby, Reuters
Additionally, the flying shrapnel and debris (IEDs are often filled with nails, broken glass, and gravel) blow off arms and legs, leaving muscles, ligaments and hamstrings dangling. They blow into the face, up through the face into the brain, and, are even finding some space behind the helmets to creep up through the neck and into the back of the skull.
If one survives the explosion, he or she almost surely endures a life altering experience. The road to recovery is extraordinarily hard, involving great personal struggle over long periods of time. We have taken a few examples from thememoryhole.org. Please visit that site and see the rest.
Allan Jermaine Lewis
Our medical people do not yet have enough data to address the recovery rates from the brain injuries that they are repairing. Maj. Rich Gullick is quoted describing it this way:
“Three or four months from now, 50 to 60 percent will be functional doing things. Functional (means) up and around, but with pretty significant disabilities.”
The remaining 40 to 50 percent have no prospect of regaining consciousness. An objective is to get them to the states alive, so their families can hold their soldier's hand and then decide with the doctors present what to do; that is, whether to remove life support.
One writer has described our “wounded” as the “dark underbelly” of war. There is merit in that description, but it leaves me cold. What are we supposed to do with a statement like that? Feel bad? Be depressed? One wounded soldier, Bill Congleton of Winston, Oregon, might caution us like this:
"Being depressed doesn't help, it just leads to longer days."
It also doesn't do much good to chase after the politicians. One mother who lost her son recently commented:
"This is not about politics. It is about honor."
The News-Review of Roseberg, Oregon, said something similar after interviewing several wounded soldiers from the local area:
"Their bravery is something that is way beyond politics. Whether or not you agree with the Bush administration's actions in Iraq, the humility and sheer guts of these young men and women deserve applause and honor. They didn't know when they signed up they'd come home like this, having to deal with crushed limbs and battered bodies. War is like that. Look at the picture of these hurt but strong men. See their faces. They are our sons and brothers, fathers and friends. They are heroes, and we won't forget that."
A mother of a soldier wounded in Iraq said this:
“To all our Wounded Warriors: Know that through the support and prayers of family and friends, we won't let you walk this journey alone! God Bless.”
So we say, forget the "dark underbelly" business. It really doesn't take us anywhere. Take the charge from this mother of a soldier. Do not let these wounded soldiers walk their journey alone. There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to help. Type in the words "help wounded soldier" in the Google search engine and you will get your start at finding many of the ways you can help our wounded soldiers on their journey. My bet is there are multiple activities in your local area where you can dig in right now.
Before concluding this story, we want to introduce you to some of those who take care of our soldiers, out in the field, in Germany, and here at home. We'll do so through a short photo gallery of the "angels of compassion and healing."
An HH60 helicopter crew from the 82nd Medical Company (Air Ambulance), 82nd Airborne Division, unload their aircraft to prepare for another mission at a forward deployed location in southern Iraq. Photo courtesy of "Combat Medics," by Major Lewis L. Barger presented by the Association of the US Army.
67th CSH North. That's the hospital, folks. To show you this, we cut out the tent city where the staff lives, off to the right. This ain't "downtown," but for the 67th, and the soldiers it cares for, it's "hometown." Photo courtesy of the 67th CSH
Trauma team tending to gunshot wound. Photo courtesy of the 67thCSH
Capt. Rhonda White comforts a U.S. Navy Seabee who was wounded in a mortar attack and just had his breathing tube removed, 31st CSH, Baghdad. Photo credit: Anas Dulami, Stars & Stripes
The 21st Combat Support Hospital is ready to receive casualties within three days of arriving at Balad airbase, which was captured quickly by the invasion force which the 21st followed in. Here, a state-of-the-art medical city is born from corrugated metal shipping containers and canvas tents. Photo courtesy of PBS.
Dr. Ben Gonzales, 28th CSH, performing surgery, working on a soldier shot multiple times. Photo courtesy of University of Arizona Alumni Association.
Leg surgery, 21st CSH. Photo courtesy of PBS.
Staff at the 31st Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, move a patient into position for a CT scan. Photo Credit: Dana Smillie for The Washington Post
The patient, Pfc Trista VanAestyn, a 67th CSH member at Mosul, was injured when the hospital's living area took a direct hit by a 107 mm rocket. She was awarded the Purple Heart, and evacuated to Germany where she recuperated. The blonde is Major Flash. Lt. LeValley is the staff member on the far left. Photo courtesy of 67th CSH
Army soldiers assigned to the 86th Combat Support Hospital use an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) to transport a litter patient at an undisclosed location in Iraq. March 30, 2003. Photo credit: SSgt Quinton T. Burris, USAF, courtesy of Department of Defense
Aboard a Blackhawk helicopter on a medevac mission, Major Kathleen Feeley operates a ventilator to help an injured American soldier breathe. Photo courtesy of PBS.
Soldiers on duty in Tikrit are now training local Iraqis nursing skills. Photo courtesy of 67th CSH.
Blackhawk Medevac crew serving the 31st CSH, Ibn Sana Hospital, Baghdad. From left to right is Pfc. Jeffrey Patterson (crew chief), Sgt. Edward Kostelnik (medic), Sgt. David Larson (flight instructor/crew chief), Spc. Pham (Public Affairs), 1Lt. Jerry Murphy (pilot), and Cpt. Roderick Stout (pilot-in-command). Photo credit: Robert Alt, presented courtesy of Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, Ashland University.
Intensive Care Unit Team, 67th CSH Forward, Tikrit. Photo courtesy of the 67thCSH
Members of the 775th EAES (Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron) tend to a patient on a patient support pallet. The new patient transport technology can be used for aeromedical evacuation on KC-135, KC-10 and C-17 airframes. Photo credit: USAF photo, presented by Department of Defense
SFC Sergio Barrera, Major Jacqueline Sheehan and Dr. (Cpt) Braunlich administer care 67th CSH, Tikrit. Photo courtesy of the 67thCSH
Army soldiers assigned to the 86th Combat Support Hospital receive and process injured USA soldiers inside the hospitals trauma room at an undisclosed location in Iraq. March 30, 2003. Photo credit: SSgt Quinton T. Burris, USAF, courtesy of Department of Defense
U.S. Army Capt. Julie Boyett and U.S. Army Capt. Matt Dolan hold the U.S. flag in front of the hospital's sign in Baghdad, Iraq. Both Army captains were assigned to the 28th Combat Support Hospital in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Courtesy photo provided by defendamerica.mil
Lt. Col. Greer E. Noonburg, MD, (front row, 2nd from right) and several members of the 240th Forward Surgical Team pose with actor Bruce Willis (top row, 4th from left) who visited the troops in Kirkush—a remote, desolate area 60 miles northeast of Baghdad. Photo courtesy of American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Staff Sgt. James Sablan, seated, talks to Lt. Nathaniel Sann during a break at the burn unit on the Tallil Air Base in Iraq. Sablan said, "I can go out there and tell every American what it's like to defend this country." Photo courtesy the Army's 86th Combat Support hospital, presented by courierjournal.com of Louisville, Kentucky
Capt. Jeff Schrader and his colleagues from the Nebraska Army National Guard construct their first hospital, we believe, in Tikrit. Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Well, everyone needs some rest. Sweet dreams to our terrific military medical people, up and the down the line.
This is why I am here: “Those guys are out there taking care of America," taking bullets for us