Soldiers treat ailing Iraqis

By Army Staff Sgt. James Hunter
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Nov. 13, 2008 - When Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, first arrived in Iraq in November 2007, they had many things in mind to help to improve the lives of the citizens in Rathwaniyah, just on the outskirts of Baghdad.

The soldiers wanted to provide medical assistance, but there was no clinic in the area available to the Iraqi citizens. So the soldiers made it their mission to establish one.

"It's a farm area, very rural, that has some sectarian division," said Army Capt. Jerry Braverman, a physician assistant from Roseburg, Ore., with the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment. "When we got here, our mission was to establish this new clinic next to the school and try to set Dr. Abass up for success to be able to independently work free of [the] Ministry of Health, with the long-term goal of getting Ministry of Health doctors and nurses to come out here and assist with the care for the area."

In the meantime, while the facility was being built, the "Top Gun" troops pushed out into the area and held six combined medical engagements, working side by side with Iraqi physicians to treat ailing Iraqis.

At the last medical operation in Rathwaniyah on Nov. 8, soldiers and Iraqi doctors treated about 350 Iraqis in the new medical facility. They treated a variety of illnesses such as upper respiratory infections, sore throats, skin rashes, muscle aches and asthma, Braverman said, and even were able to take care of a few minor tooth problems.

Braverman has been active in engaging the Iraqi physicians, and said he has found these medical engagements rewarding on many fronts.

"For me, it's very rewarding, especially with the kids," he said. "The kids know you by name; they know exactly who you are."

Recently, he said, one child approached him and said when he grows up he wants to be a doctor just like him. Braverman said the soldiers are having a great impact on the children, the sheiks and the local council, who all appreciate what they have done to aid the community.

This medical engagement also provided an opportunity for the soldiers' replacements, from the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, to meet the Iraqi physicians and see first-hand the medical problems many of the citizens face.

Army Capt. Quintin Treadway, a physician assistant from Osceola, Neb., with the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, said he is looking forward to the next year and engaging many of Iraqi physicians in the area.

He wants to continue these medical engagements, he said. "I think it engenders a lot of trust within the local people as they see us out there to help them," he explained, "and I think it's the most visible and hands-on way of engendering that trust, because we are actually placing hands on to heal someone. [Medical engagements help to] develop rapport with the local population."

Just as the Top Gun troops have done for the last year, Treadway said he is keen to treat medical conditions and help the Iraqis avoid future ailments through preventive medicine. As his medics hit the streets daily on patrols, he said, he is eager to have them do all they can to help the people, no matter how severe the case.

"I expect my medics ... to assist with what they can with the children out on the streets," he said. "A medic told me the other day a young kid had come up with a pretty good-size cut on his hand, and he bandaged it there on the spot."

Treadway said he wants to get the Ministry of Health more involved with the clinic by providing new equipment, doctors and nurses or supplies, because the clinic plays a vital role within the community.

The clinic, which Braverman describes as one of the best facilities in the area, is treating up to a dozen people a day, on average. It has proved successful since its opening, he said, as Abass, the doctor running the clinic, now can purchase his own supplies in addition to what the government normally provides. However, Braverman said, the clinic is limited in what it can do for the Iraqi people.

Abass said he hopes to add a lab and an X-ray machine, but in the meantime will do all he can with what he has to ensure the good health of his neighbors.

(Army Staff Sgt. James Hunter serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)