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Medical officer provides care, compassion for Iraqis

18 Feb 2007 | Lance Cpl. Christopher Zahn

Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, have a key player in their efforts to earn the trust and respect of the Iraqi people.

Navy Lt. Van A. Willis, the battalion‘s medical officer, joined the Marines of Weapons Company as they went to houses where they knew there were Iraqis who needed help.

“We went on patrol the day before Lt. Willis came out,” said Hospitalman Marquintus D. Edwards, 19, from Dallas. “We came across a couple of houses that had people there that needed help and medical attention. We’re trying to win the trust and respect of everybody out here, so we called to have Lt. Willis come out here.”

The chance to treat people who needed his help was eagerly accepted by Willis, who says he looks forward to every opportunity to get out amongst the people.

“They had asked for a medical officer to come out there and look at some of the people that they thought needed a little more attention than what your basic corpsman can provide,” added 30-year-old Willis, who is also a Dallas native. “I volunteered to go out there and see the patients.”

He saw and treated three patients on this patrol, each with their own unique ailment. The first stop was a baby with pneumonia, which is more of an environmental issue from living in poverty conditions, said Willis. The second was a teenage girl that initially was thought to have been burned on her back, but the irritated area was ultimately diagnosed by Willis as a skin infection. The final stop was a infant that was having problems keeping it‘s food down from not being burped after eating.

Treating patients in Iraq is a long way from the sterile, starched evironments Willis imagined himself operating in after graduating from the Kansas City University of Medicine in May 2005.

“I pictured myself working in an operating room somewhere in a big university hospital,” he said. “The last thing I thought I would be doing was being in bombed-out buildings in Iraq treating the locals.”

While not what he imagined, the experience has been an enlightening one for Willis.

“This is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my medical career,” he added. “In the past six years I have worked in hospitals, clinics, surgery rooms, all over the place, but never had I seen truly the impact that medicine can have on another human being (like) I have out here amongst these people. (It) may not be the cure for their problems, but just seeing the gratitude and appreciation in their eyes and their smile is truly the most rewarding part of what we do and why we do it. I just wish we could more for these people, but we do what we can, as good as we can, for as long as we can.”