Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Hurricane Ivan

Hurricane Ivan has brought a new set of concerns to the Soldiers of this unit. Mobile, AL is home for the 375th and the storm prognosticators have projected that the current path of Ivan will carry this catageory 5 hurricane directly into the Gulf Coast at Mobile. Needless to say, the pucker factor here has gone up a few notches. Unit members have begun confirming procedures for delivering and receiving Red Cross messages as the storm approaches.

Projected Path of Hurricane Ivan

To make matters worse, many of the members of this unit are also from the Orlando, FL area. So the Group has already survived two Hurricanes within the past few weeks. No one was seriously injured in Florida, but there was property damage. Regardless, the storms caused significant worry for everyone.

I've grown to know and appreciate the members of the 375th and I feel they are now an extended part of my family. You can't live, sleep, eat and work with the same people, day in and day out, in meager, bare conditions and not begin to care about them to a certain degree. They are good and wholesome people, they get up and put their pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else in the world; the exeception is they are now doing it here in Kuwait instead of at home with their families and loved ones. And the worry they feel at a time like this can only be imagined by people who aren't in their unique position.

As always, keep these good people and all U.S. military members in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, September 06, 2004

My Life in Kuwait

Life in Kuwait isn't all that bad, though living in the Rear keeps me entirely too close to the flag pole and the bureaucracy. Imagine working with micromanagement, triple check inventory controls, soldiers too afraid to rock the boat, senior leaders who find it necessary to distribute decrees about the displaying of flags over tents, proper wear of undergarments, and other such nonsense. It can be trying at times.

There is one inescapable fact of military life for the majority of us living in Kuwait and Iraq, the all purpose tent. Military tents are equally cursed and praised by service members. They may sometimes be uncomfortable, like when it rains or when the power goes off, but the tents of today are much better than those of the World War II and Korean War era. Tents keep us dry when it rains, they have plywood floors so we don't trod around in the dirt, and thanks to modern technology, the temperature is regulated through a heat pump which sits outside.

These tents are also easy to assemble. They are made so that anyone, regardless of mental aptitude, can put one up in a hurry. They are made of a special insulating material which helps keep in the air. Through the middle of the tent's ceiling, a plastic vent runs with holes which blows air into the tent. For thousands around the world every day, tents like these are home.

My day begins between 0500 and 0600. My first destination each morning is the bathroom trailer down the dusty road which passes through Tent City. After showering and brushing my teeth with the non-potable water, I return to the tent. I put on my uniform and head off to the S-1 Shop. I check my e-mail and inbox for any smoldering issues which may have ignited overnight, then I head to the morning Stand Up briefing which is held in a secure building a few minutes walk from my office.

Stand Up is the meeting where we get the lowdown on what's happended the night before, intel, operations, as well as equipment updates. It is always interesting and it never fails, I always hear about something going on in Iraq or Kuwait that hasn't made the news or the web and probably never will. It's fascinating. There's actually quite a bit of activity going on in the area. On several occasions our convoys have been challenged and there have been incidents of check point guards have been harrassed. Thus far no one has been shot, that I am aware of at least. Shots fired?? On a rare occasion, yes. But in Kuwait they are referred to as negligent discharges.

Following Stand Up, I hit the chow hall. That's another few minutes away. During the Surges (large influx of troops) there is a 10-minute line at the entrance. We are discouraged from calling it the "chow hall." The politically correct, originators of military etiquette would prefer that we called it the Dining Facility, DFAC for short. Apparently the word "chow" connotes visions of dog food and "the management" would prefer we didn't imply that soldiers eat dog food, or that soldiers are like dogs. Well, some days it doesn't look much better than Alpo, though most days it's not too bad. There is enough variety that no one should go away hungry.

After my morning meal, I wander into the S-1 Shop and start reading paperwork... and more paperwork.... and then more paperwork. I think you get the point. My day is filled with answering the phone, e-mails, various and sundry personnel actions, and running to the Group Commander's office to update the Command Group on the status of things at our down trace units. Occasionally we make trips to Camp Doha, Truckville, Navistar and other places where we have official business.

On a trip to deliver some official mail to Doha recently, we had an encounter with a man going from car to car at an intersection where we were sitting. He approached all the cars in our lane and actually got in the vehicle right in front of ours.... until the occupants forced him out. He moved toward our vehicle but at the last minute decided against it. I guess he saw our uniforms. I was a little nervous, had my hand on my pistol and was not thrilled about the idea of possibly having to point it at him. Thankfully he backed off and I never had to learn what his intentions were or how scared I'd be if things had progressed. He was most likely harmless but as I don't speak Arabic, it would have been difficult for me to tell. I do however speak 9mm, which does not require a translator.

It's a short walk in the dark from the S-1 Shop to my tent. On the way I pass through barricades, by construction ditches and generators, over power cords and past the lovely port-a-potties. The smell of urine, dirt and whatever is on fire and smoldering somewhere in Kuwait is always in the air. Oddly, you do get used to it.

If my day seems long, it's nothing compared to what others go through elsewhere in the Theater. Still, few people here work only an eight-hour day, and days off are rare. But then again, there's not much else to do here but work.

Once in the tent, I change, organize my gear for the next day, and before I fall asleep, I try to read a few pages from whatever book I'm reading at the time. The next morning I do it all over again.

My Three Terrorists

Contributed by LTC Cindy Clagett.

"Rituals help us all cope with this environment. Most we make up ourselves. Some find us. Every night around 10 or 11, I make evening rounds in the Iraqi detainee ward. This is a medical and surgical ward that is guarded and contains bad guys who, if they were otherwise healthy, would be in Abu Ghraib or some other prisoner of war camp. Most of the patients located there have come through the ICU at one time or another so I sort of know them and their stories.

Some I have told you about before. There was the 60 year old, shot three times in the groin as he was charging a machine gun position. He had a massive heart attack. The definitive care is us (the CSH). We do not evacuate POWs back to the for advanced medical care. The way it was explained to me was that getting captured did not result in a health care plan for life.

Another is a kid, maybe 17 who was shot in the arm and both knees while he was, high as a kite, lobbing grenades at a check point. Another young guy, also was shot in the gut, chest, leg, calf and arm as he almost suicidally charged a position. I know these patients because they all spent a lot of ICU time with me. Once conscious and aware that they were in the care of the infidels, they were, shall we say, less than polite. It probably didn’t help that the day shift played Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and “Material Girl” over and over on the CD. The older guy expressed his displeasure in a particulary noxious way by depositing his scat on the floor every time he wiggled his hind portion over his cot. The others would slap at us, spit, bite and kick, pull out IVs, chest tubes, drains, bandage packing and foley bladder catheters (only once though after they discovered the internal bubble was not deflated).

I really had only two words for these men then…’Scheduled Haldol’. That stopped the physical abuse. The fecal man kept up with the other antisocial behavior until we caught on to suppositories to better empty his arsenal on our schedule.

Every morning we make mass doctor rounds. But every evening, I go into the Iraqi Ward alone, sneaking in treats from my care packages. The young men like the Oreos. Of course my heart attack guy wants anything with salt in it, which I cave in to and compensate with his blood pressure medications. (Like he is ever going to get the heart healthy low salt diet anyway).

I make a big show of listening with my stethoscope and bring cool towels and alcohol wipes. I lean over them and look them directly in the eyes. At first, none would look back. Now we have a kind of visual arc. I perform no real medicine, but tuck them in, act like I have seen God when they give me a good strong cough, and otherwise wish them goodnight. Most of this is in mime. My big fear is that the thumbs up or OK sign is an insult. I used to do a lot of fanning my hands over my chest and taking in a really big breath, pulling my cupped palms down to my navel to get them to breathe deeply. I could not get these guys to follow along with what I thought was a fairly obvious pantomime. This was until the translator told me he thought I might be giving a somewhat provocative impression. Given that they usually don’t see women uncloaked let alone running around in a sweaty, wet t-shirt, the emphasis on expansion of the chest could, I suppose be taken in other ways.

I know they are bad guys. I know they are responsible for probably innumerable deaths. But I kind of like them now. We have a gentle relationship. They are no longer on haldol and the floor no longer reeks of crap. I feel they really smile when we see each other. I have learned other methods to signal them about the breathing thing. We have worn each other down. It is a mutual Stockholm Syndrome. They are trapped by their injuries and the MPs. I am trapped by my gratitude that they responded favorably to therapy.

There is some degree of ribbing I get from the staff and the MPs who watch this interaction and probably want to vomit. I counter with the very practical explanation that if the bad guys’ buddies ever overrun us, I would stand the greatest chance of survival.

When the day is done, all I see is a frightened older man and two young boys who have all suffered and survived mortal wounds. They like Pringles, Oreos and Bigelow Orange Spiced Tea. The three of them are parked in a row on one side of the ward. They are my three terrorists. And for better or worse, I am their doctor."