Medics provide healthcare to local population

Story and photo by Pfc. Lisa A. Cope
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Medics with the 1073rd Support Maintenance Company partner with the 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron on a daily basis, to conduct counter-insurgency operations designed to improve relations with the local population near Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

Spc. Travis A. Dykstra, a medic with the 1073rd SMC, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Middleville, Mich., native, works with the Air Force unit on COIN operations, and said the team uses Army medics because the training they receive is designed for field missions.

"Air Force (medics) are trained for clinical (operations), whereas we are designated combat medics and trained for outside the wire" he said.

Dykstra said the medics act as part of the squad until medical attention is requested for one of the local nationals.

"Primarily, we are just riflemen along with (the squad) until someone needs a medic," he said.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brian R. Curtis, a squad leader with the 532nd ESFS, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and a Stillwater, Kan., native, said the Army medics perform a vital role in his unit's interaction with the local population.

"Our most important job is to dominate the space out there to prevent (indirect fire) and (improvised explosive device) attacks," he said. "Another important part of the job is the COIN operations, getting to know the locals. … (Winning) the hearts and minds is very important."

Curtis said he knows from personal experience that the efforts of the medics have made a real, positive change in the area.

"There have been several times when actual (Iraqis) have told me to my face that the things that we are doing, talking about what the medics are doing, changed their minds about how they feel about Coalition forces," he said.

Dystra said working with the local population has changed his perception of the Iraqis as well.

"When I got here I had completely different thoughts about the Iraqi people, and actually getting the opportunity to work with them, and on them, it has really changed my perspective," he said.

Spc. Cathi Bishop, the senior medic with the 1073rd SMC and a Wayne, Mich., native, said she treats a wide variety of ailments while out with the 532nd ESFS. The main issues she sees are common childhood illnesses such as chicken pox, or skin disorders such as eczema, she said.

Bishop is also in charge of ordering medical supplies for the 532nd ESFS. She said she tries to keep the basic medical necessities plentiful so she can distribute them to the Iraqis, because sometimes the solution can be as simple as a band-aid.

Bishop said her favorite part of the job is simply getting the opportunity to interact with the local population and make a difference in their lives.

"The best part is just going outside the wire and meeting the local nationals," she said.

Bishop also said her gender offers her an advantage as a medic, because it is easier for the local female population to approach her with a medical issue.

Curtis said he really appreciates that the medics working with his unit care about the patients they treat.

"Every one of (the patients) are very appreciative (of the medics) because they see that they care about the people," he said. "That means a lot because, in this culture, in the Iraqi culture, they look at the (expressions) on people's faces; not just what they are saying, but how they are saying it. When they see someone who really cares about their job, cares about the kids … it means a lot more to them."


news photo
Spc. Travis A. Dykstra, a medic with the 1073rd Support Maintenance Company, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and a Middleville, Mich., native, inspects the medical equipment and supplies he uses on a daily basis to treat the local nationals around Joint Base Balad, Iraq, April 28. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Lisa Cope)