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New batch of Iraqi medics graduate, ready for service with Iraqi military, police units

28 Aug 2006 | Cpl. Antonio Rosas

When Iraqi soldiers and policemen here are wounded in combat, they used to rely on U.S. service members to patch up their wounds.

Not any more.

Twenty Iraqi soldiers and police officers serving near the Iraqi-Syrian border graduated from a combat medical course Aug. 10, enabling them to provide their own emergency care.

The five-week course, which was spearheaded by Regimental Combat Team 7 at the Iraqi camp here, will allow wounded Iraqi soldiers and policemen to receive medical care from their own medics, lessening their dependency on U.S. medical personnel. The graduation marks another step for the Iraqi military to become a self-sustaining force.

“The Iraqis will continue to provide security in the region as they’ve been doing only now when they’re wounded, they will be taken care of by their own medics,” said Lt. Col. Paul K. Lebidine, Military Transition Team Chief for the 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, which is based at Al Qa'im.

Transition teams are teams of U.S. service members responsible for mentoring and advising the Iraqi Army.

The graduation marked the second batch of Iraqi medics to graduate the course in western Al Anbar Province. The first class of Iraqi medics graduated in May in Al Asad - headquarters for both RCT-7 and the 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division. The course is designed to teach the Iraqis what U.S. medical personnel deem the most crucial life-saving skills in order to treat casualties in combat.

From learning procedures to stop life-threatening bleeding, treating patients for shock and applying bandages, the Iraqis learn everything U.S. medical personnel use to treat soldiers in combat.

The Iraqis were tested on their knowledge of the medical procedures with written exams and numerous hours of practical application.

“I am very pleased with what I’ve seen from the Iraqi students as they’ve been studying hard, attending classes every day and showing their instructors what they’ve learned,” said Lebidine. “Now they get to show their soldiers and policemen what they’ve learned.”

In the past, Iraqi soldiers here relied entirely on U.S. medical personnel for all their medical needs. Some months upwards of 30 Iraqi soldiers are treated at the Marines’ medical facility here, according to Navy doctors here.

The 20 graduates will embed with Iraqi military units throughout the various outposts where Iraqi soldiers and policemen serve side-by-side with Marines.

The plan is to outfit Iraqi Army outposts with at least one Iraqi medic, according to Marine officials with the military transition team.

Iraqi police officers in the region also aim to benefit from the placement of medics there as they have been the target of terrorist attacks in the past.

Just two months ago, two separate insurgent attacks on the police station in Husaybah, a city of about 50,000, left five police officers dead – there was no medic on-site. In the city of Ubaydi, a city of about 15,000, a suicide bomber wearing a vest targeted Iraqi soldiers manning a security post at the city’s hospital – fortunately a Navy corpsman was nearby.

With the newly-trained police medics, the police department in Husaybah will have an on-site emergency medical provider in case future attempts are made on the police there rather than rely on U.S. servicemen to respond, said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Ricardo Villanueva, the assistant instructor for the transition team and a U.S. Navy corpsman.

Once the Iraqi medics are assigned a duty station they will continue to be mentored by Navy corpsmen who serve alongside Marines at the outposts.

“The Iraqis won’t be out there on their own,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alfredo N. Alonso, a medical chief with the police transition team here.

“The Iraqis will continue to work one-on-one with their American medic counterparts and eventually they will teach combat lifesaving skills to the rest of the officers in their departments,” said Alonso, 30, a native of Long Beach, Calif.

Although the new medics will continue to be mentored by Navy corpsmen at military outposts throughout the Al Qa’im region, Iraqi soldiers will now rely on their own medics to receive medical treatment – an important step towards ensuring the Iraqis become completely independent by year’s end.

“I have been with these students nearly ‘twenty-four-seven’ in and out of the classroom,” said Villanueva, 24, a native of Baltimore, Md. “The students are with me when I’m working at the medical clinic and they are constantly learning how to actually treat patients.”

Some of the Iraqi soldiers had prior medical experience including one student who had studied medicine for two years at the university in Baghdad. Others had no medical experience although Villanueva said most of the students were somewhat educated and had no problems picking up the material.

“I am glad that the training is finally over and I can start to show what I’ve learned,” said a 30-year-old newly-graduated Iraqi medic through an interpreter who chose to remain anonymous. “It has been long hours in the classroom but I know what I’ve learned is important to save lives.”

Some of the Iraqi soldiers and police officers who serve in Al Anbar Province choose to remain anonymous, and sometimes refuse to have their picture taken for fear of being targeted by insurgents, although the Marines here say that every day less Iraqi soldiers are concealing their faces with wool covers.

Although just 20 Iraqis graduated the course, the Americans deem it an important stepping stone for the Iraqis’ progress towards operating independently, and allowing U.S. Forces to leave.

Email Cpl. Rosas at rosasa@gcmnf-wiraq.usmc.mil