21st CSH deploys to provide detainee care in Iraq

Story by Pfc. Crystal D. Eldridge
13th SC(E) Public Affairs

Soldiers of the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) are accustomed to watching their brothers-in-arms deploy in the face of uncertainties with only one given - difficulty.

With the nation's Global War on Terrorism and the ongoing fight for Iraq's freedom and stabilization, nearly one-third of the command's troops are absent from their homes at Fort Hood at any given time and are present in scarred regions of the world.

Whether providing humanitarian relief for hurricane victims in New Orleans or transporting coalition forces to combat zones, Soldiers of the 13th SC(E) carry huge loads of responsibility in carrying out the Army's mission, a fact the unit's commanding general, Brig. Gen. Michael J. Terry, often points out.

Despite these frequent deployments, tears are shed each time another group of Soldiers leaves the safety of home for the dangers lying before them. Family and friends gather around to wish their Soldiers well, but behind their brave smiles and encouraging words lies the knowledge of the struggles ahead of them. The Soldiers of the 21st Combat Support Hospital, 1st Medical Brigade, faced this situation April 12 as they loaded buses taking them away from their loved ones once again.

This is the second time the CSH has answered the call of the nation to aid in the fight for Iraq. In 2003, at the height of conflict, the 21st provided Level III Combat Health Support in both Mosul and Balad, facing some of the most challenging medical cases and traumas from two of the deadliest regions of the conflict at that time.

While providing stabilization, medical evacuation and resuscitative surgery to injured and wounded Soldiers, the 21st CSH made military history by being the first combat support hospital to conduct split-based operations during combat. The unit's Soldiers were responsible for providing medical care to Soldiers in an area over 250,000 square miles.

To further add to the intensity of their situation, several mass casualty situations occurred during the 21st's watch. The United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was bombed on August 19, 2003 and again on September 22, causing more than ten casualties.

In November 2003, a CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter was shot down near Fallujah, killing 16 Soldiers and wounding 20 more.

While searching for weapons of mass destruction, 31 Soldiers were exposed to hazardous materials and required treatment.

The Soldiers of the 21st CSH faced these situations, provided excellent care, and returned to Fort Hood in March 2004 with their second Meritorious Unit Commendation.

These Soldiers did not cease operations after their return. They began preparing for their second deployment to Iraq - this time to provide medical care to detainees in the Abu Ghraib and Bucca detention facilities. Among these preparations was a scheduled training mission at Fort McCoy, Wisc.

Shortly before this scheduled mission, Hurricane Katrina struck the city of New Orleans, devastating that region and causing many military operations to be redirected as the nation stepped in to provide humanitarian relief to the disaster's victims. The 21st CSH was called upon in October 2005 to set up medical operations to replace the hurricane-battered Charity Hospital.

During the 21st's deployment to New Orleans, the unit was joined by more than 100 Reservists and Active component Soldiers who were part of the Professional Filler System, PROFIS - with more than 60 who will be with the unit in Iraq. These Soldiers integrated with the 21st, developing relationships which will be invaluable during the unit's current deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"You can imagine how great an opportunity it was to form a team, form friendships and eat meals together," said Col. Jeffrey Clark, commander of the 21st CSH, referring to the PROFIS personnel who rejoined the unit nearly a month ago to begin final preparations for the deployment.

"The skills and cohesion developed while serving our fellow Americans will pay huge dividends for the 21st CSH as it prepares [for] and deploys to OIF," said Maj. Tim Bergeron of Darnall Army Community Hospital. "PROFIS Soldiers and 21st members quickly became one team."

Known as Task Force 21, these Soldiers are undertaking one of the most difficult missions facing the Army today.

"They have the toughest medical mission in Iraq," said Lt. Col. Robert Mitchell, commander of the 36th Medical Evacuation Battalion and acting commander of the 1st Medical Brigade. "[But] without a doubt will deliver first-class medical care."

Due to the high-profile nature of the unit's mission, the 21st will be under scrutiny from the nation and many dignitaries, Mitchell added.

To add to this concern, many of the more than 4,000 detainees at Abu Ghraib alone are dangerous, said Clark. Most are suspected of terrorist activity and many were detained while posing an immediate threat to coalition forces.

Regardless of their background, these detainees will receive respect and treatment according to Army standard, Clark continued.

"[The 21st CSH will be] providing dignity and respect," Clark added. "[We'll be] doing the right thing."