ALBU ASSAF, Iraq -- When civilians in this riverside area need medical care they often have nowhere to turn. There are no hospitals, medical clinics or doctors here. That leaves them with one other option: the Iraqi Army soldiers who work every day to make the area more secure.
To help these innocent civilians, a team of Iraqi medics and soldiers of 1st Brigade, 3rd Battalion, 1st Iraqi Army Division, opened the doors of a schoolhouse for a cooperative medical engagement (CME) April 28. They were joined by Marines from the Military Transition Team, a team that originated from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who helped the Iraqis provide care and general treatment for the patients living along the Euphrates River.
“It was an Iraqi-run show,” said Seaman Nathan T. Pruett, a 22-year-old corpsman from Stillwater, Okla. “It was just basic sick call, there’s no trauma or anything like that. Little things like rashes, cuts, sprains, bruises, stomach sickness; just basic sick call procedures.”
The Iraqi medics set up in an empty classroom as Marines and soldiers fanned out across the area to provide security. Once everything was set, it was simply a matter of waiting for the people to come to them. The message had gone out to the people that if they wanted medical care they just had to show up at the schoolhouse at a certain time. Some kept their expectations modest.
“To be honest I was expecting no more than probably 25 people,” said Cpl. Jasen S. Ortiz, 21, from South Plainfield, N.J. “A lot of people are scared and they feel that if they get helped by the Americans then the insurgents might hurt them. But that’s the whole point of a CME, to show them that we are not here to hurt them, we are here to protect them.”
As word spread about the free medical care, a stream of Iraqis trickled in. They were searched at the gate and then had their hands marked to prevent anyone from coming twice. Once inside they gave their names to a soldier for records and then got seen by an Iraqi medic.
These medics have been Pruett’s responsibility as an advisor. He has given them classes covering basic first aid, and supervised them while they were treating patients.
“I’ve got a couple of them that are really good, but we just got four or five new medics,” said Pruett, a 2004 graduate of Nowata High School. “The four that I have are definitely pretty good at what they do but could always use more training. They’re pretty confident in what they do. I mainly just sit back unless they need my help. If they don’t understand something, or don’t know how to do something, they’ll come get me and I’ll try to help as best I can.”
The soldiers nervously stood guard while the medics were inside treating patients. Such a large gathering could be a tempting target for insurgents. The day went by peacefully, however, due in large part to the presence of so many Iraqi soldiers providing security.
“It was very successful due to that fact that the locals now know that we are not here to fight,” said Ortiz, an advisor for Company 3. “That we are here for their benefit. Now that we have the Iraqis showing their face, it shows that we are trying to successfully do a transition in this state of the war.”
That transition is the sole purpose of men like Ortiz, Pruett and the others in their team.
“It’s a good thing on our part and the CME is one the crucial things that needs to happen if we ever want to pull out of here,” said Ortiz, a 2004 graduate of South Plainfield High School. “That’s the main thing we need to do is put the Iraqis in front of the Marines. The Marines here are not here to fight the war, we are here to support the war. That’s why we’re called the Military Transition Team. The CME is just one of the many little things we do to show that kind of force.”
At the end of the day everyone left with a sense of satisfaction from doing their job well. They had successfully provided care for over 160 people without a single hostile incident. The Marines and soldiers know they made a small difference in the futures of these people.
“I enjoy helping them,” said Ortiz. “It means a lot to know that maybe five years from now I’ll look back and know that this town, this country was safe because of what I did. One day these people will appreciate what we have done.”