Medical logistics unit saves grace for docs saving lives;

26 Oct 2004 | Lance Cpl. T. J. Kaemmerer 1st Marine Logistics Group

The 1st Force Service Support Group provides Marines in Iraq with the “beans, bullets and band aids” to accomplish their mission.

The 1st FSSG’s Medical Logistics unit here, commonly referred to as “MEDLOG,” is responsible for providing those band aids, as well as nearly 1,400 other medical supplies to the 31,000 Marines, sailors and other personnel of the I Marine Expeditionary Force.

While the injured and sick rely on the physicians, nurses, and corpsmen to treat their ailments, it’s these very same medical staff personnel who rely on the four Marines and 14 sailors of MEDLOG to provide the tools they need to save lives.

“We’ve got an enormous responsibility here,” said Lt. Cmdr. Scott S. Waniewski, MEDLOG’s commanding officer. “Nobody likes to think about casualties, but it’s an unfortunate fact of life out here. The docs can’t save lives if we’re not doing our job.”

MEDLOG supports all levels of medical facilities in Iraq, from the battalion aid stations, which provide basic care for minor illnesses, to surgical shock trauma centers and hospitals that treat severe injuries.

“We don’t save lives. That’s what the physicians do. But we do make sure the docs and nurses have what they need,” said Waniewski, a native of Toledo, Ohio.

Medical facilities need to be “ready to treat any injury coming through the door,” and to do that, field medical facilities need to be well stocked with pain relievers, syringes, oxygen canisters and other essential supplies, Waniewski said. So, MEDLOG receives pallets of bulk supplies, organizes them in an old Iraqi air hangar now used as a warehouse, and ships them out when requested. 

In the past six months, MEDLOG has handled more than 18,000 supply requests, totaling more than $13 million worth of medical materials.

“We’ve got shipments going out every day,” said Seaman Russell A. Baker, 21, a warehouseman from St. Louis, Mo. “There’s never a dull moment.”

The 1st FSSG, which serves as I MEF’s hub for logistical support, utilizes military convoys through Iraq’s often-times dangerous roadways to ensure supplies reach their destination.

Medical supplies are no exception. MEDLOG keeps a steady workload, processing more than 400 requests a week.

To get supplies from point A to point B, supplies are either sent via ground convoy or flown to their destination, depending on what’s available.

Though sending medical supplies via aircraft is the fastest and most reliable form of transportation it’s not always the best choice for transporting supplies, according to Waniewski. Certain supplies, such as oxygen tanks, can not be flown because they are combustible.

Additionally, a finite number of aircraft, competing demands as well as weight and size restrictions results in MEDLOG personnel utilizing convoys instead of air delivery assets. Delivery via ground often takes more time and presents more dangers and obstacles. 

But still, MEDLOG hasn’t had a problem keeping “the supply pipeline filled,” using the 1st FSSG’s transportation systems, said Waniewski.

Knowing when and where the next “fight is going to be,” allows MEDLOG to anticipate when extra or specific medical supplies are required, said Waniewski, 40.

“We use that information to identify future requirements, anticipate spikes in usage and act on that information proactively,” he said. “This goes a long way in mitigating future crisis and ultimately, will save lives.”

The materials MEDLOG provides go beyond just consumable medical supplies. Their bio-medical technicians also deliver and maintain equipment used in medical stations, such as portable oxygen generators and X-Ray machines – a service just as crucial to patients as the blood tubes and intravenous bags they provide.

If the equipment is beyond repair, MEDLOG will provide new equipment needed to sustain life, said Chief Petty Officer Suzette Dugger, 42, the leading chief petty officer with the Surgical Shock Trauma Platoon, a unit that treats casualties here.

“MEDLOG’s bio techs are the pulse of our operation,” the Phoenix native said. “They keep our Portable Oxygen Generator, our main source of Oxygen for our patients during surgery, up and running.” 

Just recently, MEDLOG bio-medical techs repaired a piece of gear for the SSTP which allows physicians to assess a patient’s blood – a medical stat crucial to proper treatment of certain injuries, said Dugger.

“They were here within minutes of our phone call because they know that our patients’ lives depend on their (the equipments’) proper operation,” Dugger said.

Navy Lt. Charles L. Cather, one of SSTP's operating room nurses, cited the professional excellence of MEDLOG’s bio-medical techs. He recalled three separate instances when one of the technicians, Petty Officer 3rd Class Larry Smith, repaired SSTP’s portable oxygen generator. Smith, according to Cather, spent 12 to 16 hours repairing the life-saving equipment.

“Without their continual assistance, my mission of running three OR’s would be reduced to running one as a small hospital laceration repair clinic, not the level three…trauma center that it is now,” said Cather, a 32-year-old native of Voluntown, Conn.

Many Marines may never need the fruit of MEDLOG’s labors. For most, MEDLOG is nothing more than one of many old Iraqi aircraft hangars turned Marine Corps warehouse.

But for the injured men and women who are treated at medical facilities aboard Marine Corps camps in Iraq, who will see their families again, MEDLOG is arguably the most valuable unit here, second only to the medical personnel who treat the sick and injured.

“We realize the recipients of our hard work are the Marines and sailors lying on the (operating) tables. We take a lot of pride in knowing that we did our job right,” said Waniewski.
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