Hello from Balad, Iraq!!!
I am writing this as a mass mailing as I don't get a lot of time "online" and since I type slow, I am doing this off line and transferring it when can get "online" again
I an sitting outside the dental area of the 21st CSH (Combat Support Hospital) pronounced cash. Basically. The Hospital, a 250-bed facility, is a series of double-walled tents set up with AC, water (for washing hands) and electricity. Powered by MANY diesel generators, it supports 8-16 OR tables, a full pharmacy, laboratory, ER, clinic, ICU and wards. Attached are dental, Psych (usually including combat stress detachments) Chaplin services, nutrition preventative med and community health (yes, smoking cessation class is held on Tuesdays) and an EPW ward; All in all a fully functional hospital - Kinda.
They quickly found out that the generators don't work too well at 130 degrees, and have to be rotated. Basically the AC is cut off at times. And, as it is just a bit warm outside, it gets just a bit warm inside! We soon will get a "mother of all generators" going which can take most of the AC load, however, until that is actually up and running the hospital heats up during the day. We are waiting for a part, of course.
One of the first things I did here was help move power cables. How do you move 400+ feet of power cable which weighs about 13 Ibs per foot? Take about 100 sleepy soldiers at 0530; place them about 6 feet apart. Annnnd LIFT! Start snaking!!
Hence I am sitting in one of the cool areas outside the dental area - I am sure I am breaking somebody's rule about sitting in the dental wait area, but as they have had NO patients the last hour, I am staying.
The sleep tents are just getting some AC. Until this time, if you worked nightshift, they allowed you to sleep in one section of the hospital, as it is too hot to sleep in the tents. (Of course it is too hot to sleep in the hospital too right now)
The tents still get very warm, no insulation and the heat just radiates on in. The AC is not too dependable - it tends to turn off. esp. when the generators powering the units runs out of fuel...
I got to Kuwait on Saturday night about 2300. Found out there was a flight to Baghdad, then on to Balad at 0400, so I and another LTC (Lt. Col.-ed.) ran around collecting the ID cards and orders of the group to get us on the flight. We then got everyone and their gear to the airport, in quick time, (ever try to herd cats?) Then we waited. And waited. Finally some of us got on a c130 to Baghdad, then Balad. C130 jump seats, surrounded by cargo, no windows, watch out for the propellers!
Got to Baghdad, and had to get off the plane. Scrambled to find a flight to Balad. No sightseeing - we were in a compound. With berms. Couldn't see over them. No shower facilities, no hot food no place to sleep-just MREs, and a floor until your next flight out of there - which could take days. AND if you just got in-country you have to find out where your unit is. On your own. And the phone system sucks. All satellite, with frequent disconnects. AND only one available!
Finally got to Balad on Tuesday. Another C130. Flew low and zig zaged across country, then did a power lift just before landing. Glad the flight was only 15 min or I'd've lost my lunch.
The CSH is across from the airport.
When we got here the first thing said to us was - "We don't really need you, and asked "them" not to replace outgoing nurses". Nice welcome. I don't have a job yet.
The temp is 120-130. The sun hits the sand and radiates back up to get your face. My uniform gets too hot to touch. We take showers at night as the water gets too hot during the day. And the dust is everywhere. Iraq is very flat, no hills or rises. This is not a sandy country - its all dust. Fine dust, like talc. Inches of it. Tan as you walk in poufs of dust. The helicopters blow up BIG clouds of it as they take off.
Lived through our first mortar attack last night, worst one ever here, so they say. About 16 morters. Started about 4 am and they walked the mortars across the airfield. BOOM fssstBOOM, fsstBOOM, grab your Kevlar, grab your flak vest and GO! People really Scrambled to the shelters - basically milvans with dirt piled up the sides.
Now camp Anaconda, of which sustainer airfield is a part of, is very big. While the hospital is close to the edge of the camp, and across the street from the airfield, no mortars have ever fallen INSIDE the hospital perimeter berm. About a month ago a FST team (forward surgical Team) was hit and basically lost 9 people. But again, outside our area. We did not get any casualties last night - not even Iraqis, so I guess they got them all.
Some nurses here have real problems treating the Iraqi EPWs. I don't subscribe to that prejudice. I believe we are obligated to remain on the moral high ground and treat all patients as we would want to be treated.
Step off of soapbox SO here I am.
OK, now the bad news.
We may not be home till spring.
Don't know for sure as things change without prior warning or notification.
Dad, I hope you can care for the cats till then, if not let me know
Should have brought my window AC units...
Send an electric fan please!
Love, Major Pain
I meant to write this yesterday. I’m the eve/night supervisor here at the 21st, and my job can be very mind numbingly boring. Which is a good thing.
Until someone decides to blow up a building. The UN building. Which, by the way, the UN did NOT want US security forces to secure, as they did not want a big US presence around it. Wanted to disassociate themselves from the US, so they could be seen as the nation builders, not the destroyers…. anywho, after the building went boom, the UN chief made a comment how he had expected the US to have had things settled enough in this country by now that they didn’t NEED a security force to protect them…Gee, guess they don’t watch CNN.
Anyway, they didn’t mind us digging them out, patching them up, evac’ing them to US ARMY hospitals and generally saving some lives!!
We should send them a bill.
People started trickling in at 2200, (blast was at 1600 local time, so we were getting the dug-out-of-the-ruble casualties) then came pouring in for the next couple of hours. Lots of lacerations, some bones. Our first person was the one with the 6-foot hunk of aluminum through his face. Took us a while to find a hacksaw to cut it shorter so we could get him through the door of our EMT. We got him evac’ed out to our hospital in Kuwait ASAP the neuro guys are with our 42ed field hospital there.
All in all, we got 25 during the night, and 4 more today. We had to close off our MWR tent (morale, welfare and recreation has some computers hooked up to the internet for staff use, and a big screen TV for CNN, or movies, tables, cards, games basically a place to go and sit on your down time that’s NOT your tent and has some AC in it remember it’s still 120’s during the day. It’s located as part of the hospital which is ALL tents, by the way…) and convert it into a ward. Awwwwwww no CNN….
Afterwards, I kept finding shards of glass littered though out the hospital; it wasn’t until the next day when I realized the glass fell off the patients, their clothes, their hair. We dug a lot of it out of bodies and faces.
The nationalities included British, Korean, Japanese, Kurdish, Dutch, Egyptian, French, Belgian, Italian, Australian, American, Jordanian, Iraqi, and Philippine. Fortunately, they all spoke English.
As the patients kept coming in the evac helicopter pilot made a request for airfield to be lit up and the landing pad be marked better. So the air force detachment graciously turned on two of the airfield lights for a bit and someone went out with a bunch of chemlights to mark the helipad.
This place is never quiet. There is always noise the 7 or 8 diesel generators scattered around the hospital and sleep tents providing power for our lights and AC units set up a constant background roar. The AC units themselves forcing air through the plumbs add to the cacophony, add the constant noise of helicopters, both landing and patrolling the base, the sounds of c130’s and C140’s taking off and landing on the airfield just across the street, the occasional scream of a fighter jut ripping through the sky, the PUUMP of a flare lighting up the airfield, and the occasional WOOMMMMP of incoming mortars from the fields surrounding our compound all make for a very interesting mix of white noise.
I wear earplugs when I want to sleep.
The odors are different no moisture in the air, the distinctive smell of dust, the occasional whiff from our pit toilets, the wonderful smell of burning…what ever is being burned today. All our trash is burned. Including plastics. And, when they get full, our pit toilets.
During the day it’s so bright no cloud in the sky, the sun reflects off the tan ground into your eyes making you squint. Found out really fast that if the toilet seat happens to be in the sun DON’T SIT!!! It gets VERY hot. Yipe!
At night when the moon is not out, you can see every star. Unfortunately, as we do not have any lights on outside at night its VERY dark. When the moon is out, thought you don’t even need your flashlight.
Talking about generators, we finally got “the mother of all generators” up and running. Supposed to provide power for the whole hospital. Found out this evening that it doesn’t do so good if it runs out of diesel…
But since it is now working, we have enough power so we can put up a few more tents and expand our hospital by 2 wards, and get our patients out of the MWR tent.
No mortar attacks for the last few days they must be saving them for a big volley later on…
Well, just a slice of my life so far.
Take care and please tell everyone hello for me.