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Army Capt. David M. Brennen, a field surgeon with the Charlie Medical unit at Camp Ramadi, leads a team of service members treating an Iraqi army soldier July 3, 2006. Charlie Medical is a joint medical center where U.S. Army and Navy medical personnel provide care for U.S. service members and Iraqis operating in and around the city of Ramadi and is one of the busiest trauma centers in Iraq.

Photo by Cpl. Stephen Holt

Navy 'Docs' battle wounds in Ramadi

6 Aug 2006 | Cpl. Stephen Holt

Working at the Charlie Medical unit here, a select group of sailors is providing critical surgical care for Iraqi and coalition forces injured while battling a ruthless enemy in the fight to stabilize Ramadi.

Known as Charlie Surgical, two Navy surgeons aided by six naval medical technicians, are providing a much-needed surgical capability that would not be available if they weren’t there.

The U.S. Army-run medical facility, which does not posses a surgical operating element of its own, relies on the expertise of its Navy counterparts to stabilize the severely wounded before transporting them to the appropriate level of higher health care.

“It’s like a really (graphic) episode of M*A*S*H*, but the blood and patients are real,” said Cmdr. Joseph R. Rappold, a critical care surgeon and officer in charge of Charlie Surgical. 
Since arriving six months ago Rappold and his sailors have had a hectic workload with near constant fighting throughout the city and surrounding areas. 

To date, Charlie Surgical has treated more than 350 trauma cases, with a strong success rate for stabilizing patients before sending them elsewhere for further treatment if necessary. The unit treats Iraqi and American service members and civilians, along with the occasional insurgent, and has stabilized nearly 98 percent of the critically wounded patients they receive.

Given the high rate of violence in Ramadi, having a surgical unit in close proximity to the city provides faster care to service members, who’s lives depend on how quickly they get treated, said Lt. Cmdr. Timothy J. Trainor, an orthopedic surgeon with Charlie Surgical.

If this surgical capability was not located on Camp Ramadi, patients would have to be transport to other medical facilities further away, hindering crucial treatment time, added Trainor, a 36-year-old native of Fitchburg, Mass.

“The wounds (we see) are horrific because of the firepower used to inflict (them),” said Rappold, who added that gunshot wounds, burns, and shrapnel make up most of the injuries treated here.

The “Docs” rely on their formal training and experience to handle such complex injuries that come from the battlefield.

But their school training and injuries experienced while stateside are nothing like what they face in the middle of one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq.

“Nothing you read about in any medical or surgical text book that can prepare (you) for this type of environment,” said Rappold.

Other members of the unit agree with Rappold.

“Training gives you the frame work, experience fills out that frame work,” said Lt. Cmdr Zachary J. Kitchen, an anesthesiologist with the unit. “When we see a casualty, we know exactly what to do.”

Before arriving in Iraq, none of the team had worked together. Charlie Surgical is compiled of Navy medical personnel from various stateside units.

In spite of their unfamiliarity with each other, the team has been well-organized, efficient and successful due in large part to the blend of individual talent and character, said Rappold.

This successful mixture of personalities and experiences was evident when an Iraqi soldier was brought in with a gunshot wound to his right leg, and needed emergency surgical treatment.

Immediately, the team of Navy and Army medical personnel, with the aid of an interpreter, analyzed the patient’s wounds while a second team prepared the mobile X-Ray machine to photograph the Iraqi soldier’s leg.

“The personalities (here) have made it work,” explained Rappold, a 45-year-old native of Philadelphia.

As fighting continues right outside the relative safety of their camp, the Charlie Surgical team knows they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

“There has been a lot of tragedy, but a lot of great saves,” said Rappold.

Contact Cpl. Holt at Stephen.Holt@cssemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil
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