Our flight from Kuwait to Iraq involved an interesting, corkscrewing approach to the airfield to avoid SAFIRE [small arms fire]. The military airfield in Balad, Iraq, is the busiest military airport in the world now. It is divided into two sides—one for the US Air Force and one for the US Army aviation assets. The US Navy and Marines had a few helicopters on the Army side, as well. My brigade was composed of attack, air assault, and medevac helicopters with quite a variety of missions. My job as brigade surgeon was to organize and manage the medical assets of the brigade as they were needed on the various missions, as well as to be responsible for the overall health of the brigade personnel. I also advised the brigade commander on health issues and flight medicine issues that could affect the missions.
Explore This IssueMay 2007
I was in charge of an aviation medicine clinic, which was primarily to care for the aviation crews and keep them flying, but also to care for the rest of the personnel in the brigade. I regularly cared for patients with a wide variety of problems, including dislocated joints, cardiac events, renal stones, reactive airway disease, lacerations and fractures, GI epidemics, and other minor emergent conditions. I was also involved in medical evacuation and casualty recovery missions, primarily through our air ambulance battalions.
Young men and women who were injured in a firefight or involved in an explosion (usually an IED) required immediate air evacuation, no matter what the circumstances—day or night, or even if the firefight was still going on. I have the greatest respect for the flight crews and medics who voluntarily went to these sites, even though dangerous, and extracted the wounded soldiers for transfer to the nearest combat hospital. There, my colleagues in otolaryngology would often be involved in their care, particularly with respect to head, face, and neck injuries.
I cannot emphasize too strongly the dedication, selflessness, and bravery of those men and women who each day would go out on convoys, travel on dangerous roads, fly over enemy territory, and put themselves in harm’s way, to do their job for our country. They are all volunteers and some of the finest young people I have had the pleasure of knowing. It was very sad to see their broken bodies after their injuries, but these fine young people never complained about being in a war that was not popular at home. Even the most seriously wounded, if they were able to speak, asked when they could return to their fellow soldiers.