21st CSH deploys to New Orleans

Story by Sgt. Joel F. Gibson
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office

Soldiers of the 21st Combat Support Hospital, 1st Medical Brigade, 13th Corps Support Command, deployed to New Orleans to provide emergency Level III healthcare to civilian and military personnel in support of the repopulation efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina from October 10 to November 14.

The 21st CSH took over operations being conducted by the 14th CSH out of Fort Benning, Georgia.

The mission of the CSH became essential because Charity Hospital, which had served the impoverished of New Orleans for more than 70 years prior to the storm, was damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Katrina.

The 21st took over the responsibility of providing emergency care to those previously served by Charity Hospital.

The orders to deploy actually came at a time when the 21st was already gearing up to go into a field environment.

"We had originally been scheduled to go to Fort McCoy, Wisc., to train for our wartime mission, which will primarily be detainee healthcare," said Col. Jeff Clark, commanding officer of the 21st.

Clark continued,"Two weeks before we were supposed to go to McCoy, we came down on orders to replace the 14th CSH in New Orleans."

The 14th CSH originally set up operations at the New Orleans International Airport, then moved to the Ernest N. Memorial Convention Center in downtown New Orleans.

"[The 14th] left their equipment, we fell in on their equipment and took over their mission," said Clark.

Clark said one of the greatest opportunities this deployment provided was an opportunity to become familiar with the medical professionals the 21st will be working with during their upcoming deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The medical professionals deploying with the 21st are part of PROFIS, or Professional Filler System, these personnel include but are not limited to: laboratory technicians, x-ray technicians, doctors and nurses who can augment a deploying unit from almost any other installation, said Clark.

Clark continued,"[Our PROFIS augmentees] arrived on a Friday, we left the following Monday, and started medical care that Wednesday."

"Sixty-seven of the PROFIS personnel who are scheduled to deploy with [the 21st] in the spring, were with us in New Orleans," said Clark, "You can imagine how great an opportunity it was to form a team, form friendships and eat meals together."

Working in the convention center, away from the disaster areas, some of the Soldiers of the 21st had the opportunity to be reminded why they were in New Orleans.

"We had the opportunity to have Soldiers take tours of the devastated areas of New Orleans," said Clark, "They got a better appreciation of what the people of New Orleans had been through."

TF 21's final accomplishment will be its most enduring, said Maj. Tim Bergeron, JOB TITLE MONDAY.

FEMA-purchased US Air Force EMEDS tents had allowed the Charity Hospital staff to continue to provide medical care.

This small tent complex, "The Spirit of Charity," was located in a parking lot.

It lacked reliable power, winter was approaching, and although staffed by an extremely dedicated and talented group of clinicians, they were not accustomed to providing health care in tents, said Bergeron.

Bergeron continued,"as the 21st moved out of the convention center on November 11 and 12, the Spirit of Charity would move in."

Soldiers of the 21st and Air Force National Guard experts in providing "world-class care in a tent", had the Spirit of Charity (Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit, holding beds, lab, CT scan) fully operational in the convention center by mid day on November 13, concluded Bergeron.

The 21st addressed issues most deployed units have to face at some point in time.

"We consider Soldier well-being one of our essential tasks," said Clark.

Spc. Michael Melby, a mechanic with the 21st said, "Morale was very high, helping American citizens and setting up the Spirit of Charity were the two most rewarding aspects of the deployment."

"The skills and cohesion developed while serving our fellow Americans will pay huge dividends for the 21st CSH as it prepares and deploys to OIF 4-5," said Bergeron.

 

news photo
LT. Col. John J. Faillace, chief of orthopedic services at Darnall Army Community Hospital, and 1st Lt. Kyle E. Parks, a physical therapist at DACH, treat an injured civilian in a field hospital in downtown New Orleans, during the 21st CSH's deployment to aid Hurricane Katrina victims. Photo by Sgt. Joel F. Gibson, 13th COSCOM PAO