New Triage Considered New Triumph

Story by Spc. Blanka Stratford
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office

Seven different Army and Air Force units joined forces to perform a fast-paced and well-organized mission in the village of Bakhar, Iraq, March 13.

Bakhar, known as 'Military Village,' is approximately two kilometers from LSA Anaconda and houses more than 1,000 former members of the Iraqi Air Force.

The collaborated mission was aimed at providing dental and medical service for Iraqi citizens inhabiting the village and was centered on the arrangement of a triage.

A triage is a system of establishing the order in which acts of medical assistance are to be carried out.

"The triage was actually a dry run," said Lt. Col. Felipe Ibarra, senior staff officer for the 350th Civil Affairs, a Reserve unit from Bay Area, Calif. "It was a two-hour mission that served as an experiment to discover if the course of action will be adequate for future operations."

Ibarra, who works as a public high school principal, said the joint effort was not only a good way to bring the services together, but also a method to close the gap between the U.S. military and the Iraqi population.

"It's a way of showing the Iraqi citizens that we are here to help," he said.

The triage entailed setting up a temporary battalion aid station and dental clinic at a former officers' club in the village housing area. Soldiers from the 1st and 310th Military Intelligence Battalions provided security alongside elements of the U.S.-trained local police force and other local authorities.

From there, doctors and highly trained assistants evaluated and treated a wide range of patients and ailments.

"We treated everything from muscular aches, sprains and strains to colds, worms and parasites," said Maj. Tom Eccles, flight surgeon for the 1st MI Bn., Wiesbaden, Germany. "We also removed a corn from one foot, shrapnel from a non-healing wound, and treated an electrical wound."

Children were treated separately from the adults.

"I'm a pediatrician by training, so I was assigned all the kids," said Lt. Col. Richard Young, surgeon for the 118th Medical Bn., a National Guard unit from New Haven, Conn. "Most of the time, the 118th works for the troop medical clinic at LSA Anaconda, seeing approximately 100 patients a day and running an immunization clinic for another 50 or so. It was a little different this time."

Young, who is employed as the chief of pediatrics, St. Rayfield's Hospital, New Haven, said he and his colleagues did all they could for the children of Bakhar.

"We arranged follow-up exams for those children with more serious and complex issues," he said.

While the doctors fashioned remedies, the dentists were more than busy cleaning teeth, filling in cavities and instructing local Iraqis on the proper methods of oral hygiene. Toothbrushes and toothpaste were handed out like candy.

"Our main goal is to establish communication and try to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people," said Col. Alka Cohen, pediatric dentist and commander of the 380th Medical Company, a Reserve unit based out of Memphis, Tenn. "We want to be able to improve the living conditions for them in terms of health care as well as humanitarian relief."

Both Civil Affairs and the Medical Companies are planning on continuing a long-term medical and dental outreach program to various communities in the area surrounding LSA Anaconda, said Cohen. The units are also involving local medical authorities in the program, as well providing referral for care of chronic health problems.

According to Maj. Steve Lancaster, senior Civil Affairs staff officer, 13th Corps Support Command, and officer-in-charge of the mission, the program ran into only a few minor setbacks, such as the need for more translators, a pre-screening criterion, and more power converters.

"The dental conditions of both adults and children were very bad, so there was no way to handle all of that " said Lancaster. "All in all, though, I think the mission went well. We were prepared and everything went as planned.

"The triage itself was successful," said Eccles, who oversaw the medical portion of the mission. "Programs such as this are crucial to the welfare of the people of Iraq, and the U.S. forces are doing the best that they can to provide that."


Triage Photos

Sr Airman Andy Roberts
Sr. Airman Andy Roberts, medic for the 332nd Contingency Air Medical Facility (CASF), checks the pulse of a newborn baby during a medical triage coordinated by seven combined Army and Air Force units at the Iraqi village of Bakhar, March 13.

Cpt. Melanie Newman
Cpt. Melanie Newman, dentist for the 380th Medical Company, carries supplies in preparation for use at a medical triage, March 13. The 380th, based out of Nashville, Tenn., was one of sevens separate Army and Air Force units that teamed up to provide medical and dental care to the local population of Bakhar Village, Iraq.