Featured News

Marines and Iraqis work together to build new hospital

13 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Jose L. Garcia and Cpl. Veronika Tuskowski

Residents of Ar Rutbah are getting medical care they haven't had in more than a year.

Marines and sailors from Regimental Combat Team 7 are working together with local Iraqis to rebuild a hospital.  Iraqi military took over the compound before meeting with U.S forces.

"It was the only building that was destroyed during the first war," said Navy Lt. James N. Vandenberg, 43, an architect and urban planner with the Civil Engineer Corps. "It was not looted so that's how important health care is to the people of Ar Rutbah."

Construction for the new Ar Rutbah Western Al Anbar Regional Hospital is scheduled to commence in early September.  

Until then, the citizens of Ar Rutbah make due with a makeshift hospital for all their emergencies.

The temporary clinic sees more than 300 patients on a daily basis and is overstressed from the lack of supplies, medicine and bed space.

"The clinic can't treat severe injuries," said Navy Capt. John M. Williams, the public health officer with 1st Marine Division.  "If the people need additional help, the closest hospital is in Ar Ramadi, which is a four-and-a-half-hour drive.  It is a big priority to get this fixed."

The need for a functional hospital couldn't be ignored with more than 60,000 people living in the city and surrounding communities.

Representatives from the 1st Marine Division and the First Marine Expeditionary Force Engineering Group met with members of the Iraqi Ministry of Health and several sheiks in June to discuss a plan to get a new hospital up and running.

Vandenberg designed the modular, 46-room hospital on the ground of the former facility and presented the plan to the hospital administrator for approval.

"Out of all the work I've done in this country, this is the most important project because it impacts the Iraqi people," said Vandenberg, from Little Rock, Ark. "It is a non-political project and everyone agrees it is something needed.  People have basic needs and the adequate health will help tremendously."

The project was funded $750,000 from RCT-7 and the 1st Marine Division's Commander's Emergency Response Program.

The funds will cover the building of a new hospital, roadway surrounding the hospital and provide temporary living quarters for up to nine doctors who rotate out of Baghdad and Ar Ramadi every few weeks.

The new hospital will be capable of treating trauma patients, performing general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, X-ray and laboratory tests.

Each ward will have an outside courtyard for the patients to pray.

"The courtyards are real important to the healing process," said Vandenberg. "People who are sick and injured heal faster if they see birds, trees, and just nature."

In addition to the CERP funds, several non-government organizations donated supplies and medicine for the new hospital.

InMed Partnerships for Children, a non-profit organization from Virginia, donated $1.8 billion worth of medicine. Spirit of America, a charity from Los Angeles, organized the transportation of the goods and Global Operations and Development, also from California, donated durable medical equipment such as wheel chairs, braces and splints.

Ar Rutbah also boasts a large contingent of Iraqi Security Forces personnel and their families to include four Department of Border Enforcement battalions, three Iraqi National Guard battalions, the Iraqi Highway Patrol and Customs Police.

"Many of the Iraqis providing security are involved in gun fights and car accidents," Williams said.  "This new hospital will be most beneficial to them."

The new hospital will not only help the citizens with medical care, but it will also help with employment in the area.

"This new hospital will employ around 100 people," Williams explained. "Plus, we want to hire local contractors to build the hospital, which will provide work for hundreds of more people."

Williams hopes the completion of the hospital will make the ties between Iraqis and Marines stronger.

"Ar Rutbah is not a friendly place right now, but the whole community supports this," Williams said. "By building this hospital, we hope to create some good will."

Some Marines and sailors look forward to a chance to help Iraqis gain the medical care they need.

"It's motivating to help build a new hospital," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph P. Angelo, 35, from Tampa, Fla., and an engineer technician with RCT-7.  "Before we left the states, we were told this is what we would be doing."