International troop team brings Iraqi clinics hope

25 Aug 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

They were a squad of armed Marines, a detachment of Iraqi troops, a handful of soldiers and a lone Navy doctor, loaded down with heavy green crates and traveling as a pack during the mid-morning hours. 

To themselves, they were simply service members on a routine mission here, but to several children and overworked doctors in Fallujah, they were the harbingers of hope.

The joint Iraqi and U.S. troops were conducting Operation Medical Mentoring the morning of Aug. 25.  Their goal: to aid the Iraqi government in healing the country's still-broken medical system by supplying Northern Fallujah's clinics.
Marines from Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment; Iraqi soldiers and other military personnel distributed supplies such as children's cough suppressants, blood pressure regulating medications, and as many as 100,000 Tylenol tablets to the city's Al-Jolan Primary Health Care Center and Dur al-Sement clinic.

"The drugs we handed out today were all brand new, donated by pharmaceutical companies and caring citizens (in the U.S.)," explained Navy Lt. Jared Vogler, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment's medical officer. 

"We'd sorted the meds out beforehand so that each clinic got the same amount."      The 31-year-old Rockford, Mich. native added that Iraqi Security Forces had identified these shortfalls in medical supplies to his battalion, as they routinely patrol the nearby streets and converse with their fellow citizens.

“Today, the ISF brought their own doctor and helped provide security during the giveaway," continued Vogler, a 2003 Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine graduate.  "These types of missions help foster positive interaction between them and local people."

It would not be the first time the Iraqi soldiers and Marines have helped these clinics help others, either.  Company B assisted ISF personnel conduct a prior evolution of what they call medical mentoring, May 15, to distribute acute care medications and discuss logistical difficulties the local doctors experience while attempting to get supplies for their clinics.

Due to continued insurgent activity and willingness to attack civilian targets throughout the country, the traditional supply routes used to acquire medication are broken down, so clinic personnel said they do not get their materials as fast as they need.

However, one of the biggest concerns local doctors continued voicing, Aug. 15, was ambulance movement during nighttime hours.  Terrorists use ambulances to disguise their intentions.  Currently, Fallujah is under a strict curfew to prevent this and other sneaky movements under the cover of darkness.  The movement of ambulances during curfew require strict coordination with both drivers and security forces on edge.

Although they are often inconvenienced by these rules, local doctors acknowledged their importance and remained thankful to the Iraqi and American security forces for performing missions such as Medical Mentoring.

"These medications will help us take care of the people, because sometimes, our clinic can see as many as 300 patients in one day," said Dr. Haytham Khaleef, Al-Jolan Primary Health Care Center's manager.  "We can never have enough medication in this downtown Fallujah clinic, so it's wonderful to get this help from the Iraqi and U.S. forces."

Today's Medical Mentoring was only a quick-fix to an ongoing problem that Coalition Forces continue to tackle, Vogler said.

"We want to provide the clinics with what we can for now, but what we ultimately want to do is help them build up their own infrastructure," he added, referring to how the end goal is for Iraqi institutions and local government to supply their own clinics with medications.  "What we did today was more of a temporary relief and a goodwill gesture."

As the troops handed out life-saving supplies to the clinics and stuffed animals to the children outside, Vogler reported feeling a sense of accomplishment.

"It's great to see all the people smiling and happy because of something we helped do," he stated.  "Ultimately, we're all trying to do what's best for the people of Fallujah.  I've no doubt a lot of good was done today."