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Assistant surgeon general visits Balad hospital

by 1st Lt. Lisa Spilinek
332 Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

3/11/2008 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- The assistant Air Force surgeon general for nursing services and medical force development met with deployed medics March 3 and 4 at Balad Air Base.

While touring the Air Force Theater Hospital, Maj. Gen. Melissa A. Rank visited with Airmen assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Medical Group and listened as they explained how the hospital staff maintains a 98 percent survivability rate.

"They don't do business any differently whether there is one person or five people to take care of" when patients are brought to the hospital via helicopter from locations throughout Iraq, said Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Nies, the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron superintendent.

From the moment patients are brought to the hospital, they are treated with the latest in battlefield medicine, which is sometimes more advanced than what is practiced outside the area of responsibility. As General Rank made her rounds, she was able to view firsthand some of the instruments medics here use, to include the Balad Pack, which is used to temporarily seal up operation locations on patients who will require additional surgery. Another addition to the hospital is a new CT scanner that can scan a person from head to pelvis in less than five minutes -- in the past this process could take 15 minutes, said Staff Sgt. Crystal Patino, a radiology technician.

"I've been telling a story about the abilities of Air Force nurses and technicians since I came into this position in 2005," General Rank said. "I'll be able to go back with credibility, being able to breathe more life into that story."

General Rank learned not only how the staff aids wounded U.S. and coalition forces, but also Iraqi civilians as well, of whom approximately 10 percent are children, said Tech. Sgt. Susan Moreno, an intensive care unit technician.

For the U.S. military and contractor members injured enough to require additional care outside of the area of responsibility, the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility is where they wait for transportation to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

"Everyone comes through here," said Lt. Col. Rene Bloomer, the CASF chief nurse. From Jan. 12 to March 3, 1,514 patients and 2,600 pieces of luggage have passed through the facility.

While waiting transportation, CASF members try to make patients' time there comfortable.

"We believe our mission is not to just get them to the plane safely and expeditiously, but also allow them to sleep and normalize as much as possible," Colonel Bloomer said.

In addition to being able to see firsthand the way patients are cared for in the deployed arena, General Rank and Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Potts, the Air Force aerospace medical career field manager who accompanied the general on her visit to Balad AB, were able to see the way medical Airmen were cared for with regard to their quality of life in the AOR and how well their training had prepared them for deployment.

"Medical personnel are one of the most heavily deployed assets on the ground of any career field," Chief Potts said. "Our job is to make sure their living conditions are acceptable and that we establish training platforms that will set them up for success."

The chief said during the visit he was interested in learning about the equipment available to deployed Airmen and whether or not training platforms should be altered to further benefit future deployers.

As the general and chief wrapped up their visit to the hospital, they left with not only a "significant exposure" to deployed medical operations, but also a "greater sense of compassion," General Rank said.

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