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On the Ground: Troops in Iraq Keep Humanitarian Efforts at Forefront


Army Sgt. Ray Chavez and Army Pfc. Jonathon Ahrem treat an Iraqi boy during a joint U.S.-Iraqi humanitarian mission in Iraq’s Maysan province, March 8, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st. Class Mark Schenk

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2009 –

Though U.S. forces in Iraq have focused their efforts on building the nation’s self-sufficiency, they have not lost sight of the need for humanitarian assistance.

In recent days, U.S. forces have conducted humanitarian missions throughout Iraq to boost the quality of medical care and deliver health care and much-needed supplies to Iraqis. U.S. forces also are taking care of their own by moving some U.S. soldiers to another base with better amenities and proximity to their unit.

In Wasit province, Iraqi doctors met with the 41st Fires Brigade medical team March 12 at Al Abbas Hospital in an effort to improve the quality of patient care and restore medical services in the area. The visit was part of Operation Gunner Med, a joint medical civil-military operation between the Wasit director general of health and the 41st Fires Brigade.

“The most important thing we want everyone to know is that we are trying to open up all the lines of communication so we can discuss things, with the ultimate goal of making things better for patients in Wasit,” Army Capt. (Dr.) N.I. Okpokwasili, 41st Fires Brigade surgeon, said.

Okpokwasili pointed out the medical capabilities of Forward Operating Base Delta and explained how his medical team could assist their Iraqi counterparts.

“Most of the stuff that you have at Al Abbas is far above what we have over at FOB Delta,” Okpokwasili told senior Iraqi physician Nawfal al-Malily and his staff. “The American medical system in Iraq is not to completely fix our soldiers here. Instead, we stabilize and then we send them out either to Germany or the United States.”

The U.S. medical team can offer weekly training and case discussion, Okpokwasili added. “Our surgeons can discuss with your surgeons the things that they know. In that way, we can be a resource,” he said. “Once you establish if our doctors can help you, then we can establish how.”

The Iraqi Ministry of Health and the 41st Fires Brigade also are installing video teleconferencing systems in the local hospitals to enable communication between each of the hospitals as well as Baghdad, Okpokwasili said.

Medical care also was the focus near Forward Operating Base Hunter. Iraqi and U.S. soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team conducted a joint humanitarian mission March 8 to provide medical attention and essential supplies to the residents of Musharah in Maysan province.

During the visit, American medics examined the children for everything from routine stuffy noses to a number of complex health problems, some of which were referred to the Iraqi National Assistance Center in Baghdad for possible treatment in America.

“I was just recently attached to this unit, so this was my first mission,” Army Spc. Brenda Goode, a combat medic with 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, said. “I was really surprised, not only by the diversity of the complaints, but by how nice the people were and how grateful they were for our support.”

The children also received school supplies, vitamins, toys, blankets, games and clothes that were donated from families, friends and groups at Fort Hood, Texas. The soldiers also donated medicine and supplies to the clinic.

“It’s just so kind of the families who sent this to us; not knowing us, but willing to help us,” said an Iraqi mother who brought her son in for an ear infection. “I am overcome with their generosity.” Army Sgt. Ray Chavez passes out toys to Iraqi children during a joint U.S.-Iraqi humanitarian mission in Iraq’s Maysan province, March 8, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st. Class Mark Schenk

A rural village in Babil province also benefited from the generosity of Iraqi and U.S. forces. Iraqi police and soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team recently delivered a railcar shipping container packed with supplies, including blankets, water purifiers and generators, to the residents of Jawadia.

Nearly 250 people from 42 families benefited from the humanitarian mission.

"This type of mission is what we look forward to, because we see a difference on the spot,” Army Staff Sgt. Travanti Andrews of 2nd Platoon, Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, said. “The [local people] are extremely grateful, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to help out. Everybody wins."

As they help others, U.S. forces also are ensuring they take care of their own.

Soldiers from the 204th Brigade Support Battalion have begun to relocate from Forward Operating Base Kalsu to Camp Echo, where the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team is located. The move is being made to better support operations, said Army Maj. Thomas P. Bryant, 204th BSB operations officer, adding that the unit’s mission will remain the same.

The new location is generating positive feedback. “I like Camp Echo a lot,” Army Spc. Evan Rector, a 204th BSB equipment repairer, said. “It has a lot of the amenities that you can find back home.”

Rector, who arrived at Camp Echo in December, said 204th BSB soldiers have worked on improving their new headquarters building, rebuilding it to meet their needs.

The entire battalion is slated to be relocated and operational at Camp Echo this month, Bryant said.

(Compiled from Multinational Corps Iraq and Multinational Division Center news releases. Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Thompson of the 41st Fires Brigade, Army Sgt. Josh LeCappelain of the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Schenk of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, and Army 1st Lt. Matthew Pierce of the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team contributed to this article.)

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