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Pfc. Cassandra Monroe, 135th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – 02.25.2010 As a platoon of male combat Soldiers prepare for a mission, it is not difficult to spot out one petite female, preparing a large Army Combat Uniform patterned bag. A bag that's almost bigger than the person. That bag is what one would call a medical-aide bag, or "A- Bag," and that bag belongs to 21-year-old Sgt. Topacio Ortiz, a medic with the 313th Medical Company, Nebraska National Guard.
The Lincoln, Neb., native joined the Nebraska Guard because of the great benefits that the guard has to offer, such as full-tuition benefits for college as well as extra money. As a student, Ortiz continues to work toward becoming a nutritionist. As a civilian, she works in a lab at Pathology Medical Services where she processes blood samples. Because of her track record with the medical field, a military health-care profession seemed natural to choose.
"I was always interested in medical work," said Ortiz, who follows in the footsteps of her grandmother, who was a healthcare specialist in Mexico. "I was interested in sports medicine and therapy primarily. The Army has a program for a health care specialist, so I joined."
The young Soldier soon found herself enduring a rigorous training schedule at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, training to become a combat medic.
"We trained every day for eight hours and went through basic emergency medical courses," said Ortiz. However, during the last 10 weeks of the training, Ortiz had to put her Soldier skills to use by training under pressure.
"We had to perform the duties under battlefield circumstances," she said. This could include trying to start an IV on a wounded Soldier in a moving, dimly lit vehicle, or applying a pressure dressing to control hemorrhage bleeding while taking direct fire.
After completing her training, Ortiz arrived to her unit in Nebraska. Just a few months later, she joined the 313th Medical Company and was scheduled for deployment.
"It was a learning experience for me, because they were more of a field unit as opposed to a medical detachment, where I did a lot of medical physicals," said Ortiz. "With this unit here, I learned a lot as far as operating a vehicle and other tactical standard operating procedures.
"I didn't have a problem with deploying. You always know you're going to go eventually and I wouldn't have chosen a better unit then the one I am with now. The last year and a half of training and drills really helped with getting to know each other and preparing for this deployment."
Once her boots hit the ground, Ortiz, along with other medics in her unit, were attached to convoys and other missions, providing critical medical support to the mission.
"Typically we escort different American engineering and construction companies, such as Kellogg, Brown and Root as well as foreign national trucks from one base to the next," said Ortiz. "I supply medical support if anything were to happen on the way."
Although most missions are usually safe, there are some emergencies that may be presented, and Ortiz and the other 313th medics are there to help. During one particular incident, she was able to put her good training to use.
"We had an incident where a foreign national truck broke down; they had hooked it up to the tow bar, and the tow bar broke," said Ortiz. "It ripped out the engine and it slammed into the front of the vehicle. The man injured got out of the vehicle and looked scared; he had a broken wrist from bracing himself from the engine, his chest had hit the steering wheel and he had some deep cuts on his shin.
"First, I needed to reassure the casualty. They are going to be more scared after seeing blood and seeing themselves hurt even if it might not be that bad. You have to tell them that they're going to be okay."
However, working on foreign soil sometimes comes with challenges, especially during emergency situations.
Sometimes, there are challenges, like language barriers, said Ortiz. Also, the casualty had bruising on his chest from the accident. He was breathing just fine, but he may have had internal injuries.
Another incident happened shortly before a unit was scheduled to redeploy. Army leadership repeatedly warns Soldiers to not get complacent, even with a whole year's worth of missions under the belt.
There was a rollover where the driver over corrected himself and flipped the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, said Ortiz. If the gunner hadn't been wearing his restraints, he would have been thrown out.
As far as the rest of the deployment goes, Ortiz expects life to become a little busy.
"With elections coming up, the operations might be picking up," she said. "I am expecting to see more patients, but I am not hoping to. You never know what's going to happen in an environment like this."
However, whatever happens next for Ortiz will be met with a good attitude and a love for the job.
"My favorite part of this job is being able to help people," she said. "With my job, I can go ahead and jump in and help. I am able to help my unit with medical support but also other Soldiers."
"It's a good thing if your medic is bored. That means people are staying safe."