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Marines and Iraqi Army help heal Iraq

6 May 2006 | Cpl. William Skelton

Marines from 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment along with soldiers from the Iraqi Army held a medical operation here May 6.

More than 300 Iraqi men, women and children were diagnosed and treated for a variety of illnesses during the medical clinic.

“I think the ‘med op’ went pretty good,” said Gunnery Sgt. Robert M. Linares, a 38-year-old civil affairs staff noncommissioned officer from Fontana, Calif. “These people don’t have medical help of any kind here, so this is a major outreach.”

This was the first time the battalion organized a medical assistance operation of any kind. U.S. Army soldiers were on hand to assist in examinations and filling medicine prescriptions as well.

“We had some hurdles to overcome,” Linares explained.  “The biggest was that we had never done a ‘med op.’  The Army really stepped up and provided us with the ‘meds’ and personnel we needed to get the job done.”

The team set up a clinic in a schoolhouse. Marines and Iraqis manned security posts to ensure the area inside the school remained safe.

“The Iraqis are checking out the people as they come in the gate,” said Lance Cpl. Robert D. Larsen, a 21-year-old infantryman from Los Angeles. “They are using metal detectors to make sure the only people that get in are the people who are here for help.”

Two lines were formed to separate men from women and children, allowing for private care for all.

Inside the classrooms, doctors from the U.S. Army and the Iraqi Army were on hand to see the patients. Most patients seen by the doctors only required minor medical treatment.

“The majority of the things we see are usually rashes, lesions, upset stomachs and coughs.” said Army Capt. Tom J. Weissenberger, a 46-year-old physician from Commack, N.Y. “Mainly, the only thing we can provide them here today are preventative medicines.”

Some Iraqi citizens suffered from more serious conditions. One small infant was diagnosed with spina bifida, a condition in which the spine is not completely grown together.  Doctors were unable to treat the child there, but referred his mother to a specialist for treatment.

“There is nothing we can do here for this little guy,” said Army Lt. Col. Kathy F. Champion, a 42-year-old physician from Olympia, Wash.  “We have given the mother information on an American doctor who specializes in this area, who is in the country.”

The Iraqi people also received blankets, shoes, water and other items provided by the battalion’s civil affairs group.

The operation was a key success for not just the citizens in the region, but the Iraqi soldiers as well.  Iraqis were able to see their own soldiers bringing aid to their city.

“I think the Iraqi soldiers did pretty well,” Linares said. “I think we really made a difference for these people today.  I hope we will be able to do more projects like this.”