Wounded Iraqi Troops Fill AF Hospital
By Ron Jensen
Stars and Stripes
November 23, 2004
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq ó Iraqi troops wounded as they fought alongside
Americans in the recent Fallujah offensive are filling nearly half of the beds
Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad, worrying doctors about the
availability of bed space should another tidal wave of patients arrive.
"We are very nervous," said Dr. (Col.) Greg Wickern, commander of the 332nd
Expeditionary Medical Group.
Unlike the wounded Americans, Iraqi casualties are not evacuated to the Army
Regional Medical Center at Landstuhl, Germany. They remain in Iraq, requiring a
bed and the attention of the medical staff.
And because of both a weak health care system in Iraq and the danger faced by
Iraqis who help Americans, many patients cannot be released from the hospital at
Balad Air Base, known as Logistics Support Area Anaconda.
If another military action or a particularly effective mortar blast create a
large number of casualties for Wickernís hospital, he said, "We would have to
swell our bed space."
An Air Force Theater Hospital is defined as an 84-bed hospital with the
capacity to expand. Specific numbers of patients are not discussed.
During the recent fighting in Fallujah, the hospital received hundreds of
wounded, including American troops, Iraqi allies, enemy combatants and
Fifty-one American servicemembers and about eight Iraqi soldiers were killed
during offensive to take back Fallujah, said Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler,
commander, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, in a news conference from Fallujah on
Friday. About 425 American and 43 Iraqi servicemembers were injured during the
Wickern said about 20 percent of the patients treated at the hospital during
the weeklong offensive in Fallujah were Iraqis fighting alongside Americans, but
those casualties now tie up between 40 and 50 percent of the beds.
The Iraqi patients require ongoing care from the hospital staff, unlike
wounded Americans who are evacuated for additional care as soon as possible,
sometimes within hours. American patients rarely stay longer than a day or two.
"We have to provide a much more definitive level of care for our host
nationals," said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Jim Quinn, hospital chief of staff. "The volume
of total care we give them has been a surprise."
Because of the nature of the injuries, many patients are unable to receive
the care they need in the local hospitals, Wickern said.
"The Iraqi health care system is trying to build itself back up," he said.
The Ministry of Health has made that a priority.
But it still lags behind and can not offer the treatment many of these
Also, the patients could face the wrath of insurgents who want to discourage
with graphic measures cooperation with America.
"You canít take these people and put them in a facility that is not
considered infiltration-proof," Wickern said.
Some patients have been released to family members.
An Iraqi physician visits the hospital once a week to assess patients and
take those he thinks can be treated safely outside the wire of the American
base, Wickern said.
"Normally, he takes about two people back each trip," he said.
Wickern would like the visits increased to two or three times weekly to
possibly empty more of the beds before they are needed for new patients.
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