Military medics busy treating Iraqi forces as ISIS continues the fight


Soldiers from the 47th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad check a patient for injuries Nov. 24, 2017. They include, left to right, Pfc. Michael Torres, Captain Daniel Braun, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Abbey, Dr. (Capt.) Cecily Vanderspurt and Spc. Brianna Camarena. (Courtesy photo / US Army)

Soldiers from the 47th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad check a patient for injuries Nov. 24, 2017. They include, left to right, Pfc.  Michael Torres, Captain Daniel Braun, Staff Sgt.  Jennifer Abbey, Dr. (Capt.) Cecily Vanderspurt and Spc.  Brianna Camarena.

Soldiers from the 47th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad check a patient for injuries Nov. 24, 2017. They include, left to right, Pfc. Michael Torres, Captain Daniel Braun, Staff Sgt. Jennifer Abbey, Dr. (Capt.) Cecily Vanderspurt and Spc. Brianna Camarena. (Courtesy photo / US Army)

Col. Robert Howe, commander of the United States-led medical task force in Iraq, as reported in 2016.

Col. Robert Howe, commander of the US-led Iraq medical task force, as reported in 2016. (Courtesy Photo / US Army)

A US-led medical task force in Iraq has treated hundreds of patients over the past five months, including around 300 injured Iraqi security personnel, as coalition forces shifted from operations offensives to the takeover of the Islamic State.

Although ISIS has lost all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq, the remnants of the group continue to launch attacks, killing and injuring security forces and civilians.

The volume of patients and the rate of Iraqi wounded treated have sometimes surprised US officials.

Because Iraq often lacks sufficient medical capacity to treat victims of the ISIS battle, now in its third year, coalition medical units are filling the gaps for now and are working on staff training. local health care provider for the future.

The US-led coalition primarily assisted severely injured Iraqi troops, but sometimes civilians as well, when life, limb, or sight would otherwise be lost.

Based out of Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington, the 47th Combat Support Hospital was deployed to Iraq in early October, after much of the fierce fighting ended and just months before Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi does not declare victory over the terrorists.

Nonetheless, the hospital saw patients almost every day of its more than five months in the country.

Pentagon data shows 16 Americans killed and five wounded in action while supporting the anti-ISIS struggle during this period. Almost half of the patients at the hospital were Iraqi soldiers – a “significant rate,” said Col. Robert Howe, commander of the task force known as TF Med.

During the bitter month-long battle for Mosul, the Iraqi government asked the World Health Organization to help provide primary care to those wounded in the battle, most of whom were civilians.

Although ISIS lost control of Mosul last summer and the rest of its Iraqi territory at the end of 2017, a commander in northern Iraq said that clashes between Kurdish forces and fighters ISIS continued to be bloody at the start of this year. In recent weeks, militants have carried out surprise attacks against Iraqi forces and government-backed militias.

Surprising volume The volume of patients in the first 90 days of the deployment was surprising, said Col. Jennifer Gurney, a surgeon for the medical task force. At the time, they had seen patients every day except one and had treated nearly 400 in total, although that figure includes everything from someone with the “sniffles” to cases of multiple traumatic injuries.

Since then, there have been a few days of downtime, but a slightly lighter volume of around 200 additional patients being treated, said Major Elizabeth Desitter, the command’s operations officer. This figure does not count patients who came for less urgent problems or dental and physical therapy appointments.

Equipped with a pharmacy, laboratory, x-ray unit and blood bank, the hospital provides the highest level of care to troops in the country and can keep patients for as long as needed.

Troops coming from distant places are transported there after being stabilized by surgical elements in advanced positions, with the aim of treating the wounded within 60 minutes. During this critical period, known as the “golden hour”, the chances of saving their lives are greatest.

The hospital also maintains these remote units supplied with blood for transfusions, a key part of its efforts, whose supplies are managed at 15 sites. Supported units received 100 boxes of blood, Desitter said.

Each box can hold up to 20 units of whole blood – more than if packed with other types of blood products like platelets – and each unit can save up to three lives, although in some cases patients traumatized people may need dozens of units or more.

Gurney said the Iraqis who had been treated suffered largely from gunshot and explosion wounds.

However, Howe said the unit had “expanded the scope a bit”, in part to keep surgical and other essential skills up to date.

Medical staff are also carrying out restoration operations to repair the devastating multi-year injuries that some Iraqis have suffered. The surgeries can deal with bone loss or a disease that has destroyed or damaged the limbs of patients. Some patients were able to walk for the first time in years after the surgery, Gurney said.

Training with Iraqis and partners The task force also trained Iraqi health professionals, with the ultimate goal of “getting out of a job,” Desitter said.

To support the large number of injured Iraqis, the task force developed a course to teach Iraqi personnel to train physiotherapy assistants, Desitter said.

The training helps officials stay prepared during the occasional downturn, she said. In preparation for their deployment, they reviewed the lessons their predecessors learned from the fierce battles for Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. They have since shared these lessons with their Iraqi counterparts, 20 of whom have been trained to teach others basic combat rescue skills. They are now working on advanced skills.

The Americans also trained in theater-specific skills with teams from the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Australia and Canada. Staff from 10 countries make up the Medical Task Force, which includes U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force troops.

Howe, the task force commander, said he was proud of the job they had done.

“We have the best job there,” he said.

[email protected] Twitter: @chadgarland

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Chad garland

Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the US military in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. A native of Illinois who has reported for news organizations in Washington, DC, Arizona, Oregon and California, he is an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign and Arizona State University.



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