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With a look of intense concentration reflecting off of his protective eyewear, Lt. Cmdr. John-Paul H. Rue, a 36-year-old native of Northfield, Minn., performs surgery April 21, 2006 at Fallujah Surgical. He was placing an external fixator on a severely injured extremity in the operating room here. The staff of nurses, corpsmen, surgeons and Marines here handle the needs of both operating and emergency rooms, acting as a key link between basic medical care in the field and advanced treatment at one of three main hospitals in the region.

Photo by Cpl. Christopher A. Green

Medical care in Fallujah a team effort

16 Jun 2006 | Cpl. Daniel J. Redding

While convoying across the dangerous roads of Fallujah, a humvee is struck by an improvised explosive device. The blast of flames and shrapnel destroys the military vehicle and critically wounds several Marines.

Immediate and potentially life-saving care is necessary; a process that starts immediately on the scene as a corpsman with the convoy quickly and efficiently prepares the injured service members for transportation to the closest medical facility - Fallujah Surgical.

It’s here where a team of professionals stand ready 24-hours-a-day for these wounded warriors’ arrival.

From start to finish, the process of medical treatment at Fallujah Surgical is a team effort, with Navy surgeons, nurses, corpsmen and Marines handling the duties of both emergency and operating rooms.    

This Navy-Marine team serves as a critical link between treatment in the field and care at more advanced facilities in Baghdad.

As soon as a patient arrives here, he is searched for possible explosives or other weapons. The medical personnel impatiently wait behind concrete barriers, anxious to do their part.

Once the Marines have cleared the patient and transported him to an emergency room, corpsmen and nurses begin working side-by-side. They perform immediate care to stop blood loss while ensuring the patient’s ability to breathe has not been endangered.

Set in a building erected during the reign of Saddam Hussein, the makeshift hospital offers minimal space for their treatment, but the life-saving professionals here have not let this slow them down, said Cmdr. Maureen M. Pennington, officer-in-charge of Fallujah Surgical.

As the corpsmen and nurses perform their roles, the Marines will occasionally assist the sailors by performing basic medical tasks like putting pressure on a bloody wound or setting up intravenous fluids.

“Everybody does a little bit of something,” said Navy Capt. Jim J. Schneider, a general surgeon and officer-in-charge of the Forward Resuscitative Surgical Suite (FRSS) here.

A practicing surgical oncologist back home in the U.S., Schneider, a 49-year-old native of Norfolk, Va., typically specializes in cancer-related care. In Iraq, there are no specialties. As a general surgeon here, he delivers whatever treatment his patients need to survive.

“It’s gratifying to see everyone ... throw in (their expertise) to get the job done,” said Schneider.

The medical team has treated approximately 400 combat injuries since arriving in February. Major injuries are common, with soft tissue wounds from improvised explosive devices a common occurrence.

As they treat wounds varying from severely burned Iraqi soldiers to American service members who suffer major gunshot wounds, the sailors and Marines work as a cohesive unit to accomplish their life and death mission.

Constant coordination and communication between the different medical specialists is necessary as they handle this pressure, said Navy Lt. Keith G. Dobbins, a 30-year-old native of Chicago.

“You have to be ready for the unexpected trauma,” explained Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert M. Johnson.

The tough conditions and stress create strong bonds between everyone who works here, said Johnson.

“I’ve never seen a group of personnel come together as quickly as this one has,” said Johnson, a 29-year-old native of Columbia, Mo.

Treatment is given at Fallujah Surgical to patients of all backgrounds including U.S. and Iraqi forces, civilians and even insurgents.

Whether it’s American or Iraqi who are injured, in the end, “It’s like you’re working on family,” said Pennington, a 41-year-old native of Portland, Maine.

The injuries sustained by individuals here are often unique and sometimes difficult for the sailors and Marines.

“People get injured in the worst of environments (here),” said Dobbins. Wounds suffered by service members in Iraq are what people would “only read about in books,” he said.

As fighting continues in western Iraq the pressure of life-saving work on a daily basis is a way of life for the team known as Fallujah Surgical. 

When asked about her sailors and Marines, Pennington could only whisper that she was “very proud.”
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