By Sgt. Natalie Rostek, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 14, 2007 - Soldiers and leaders of 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Dec. 11 to open a health clinic in Wahida, Iraq. Four months ago, city council members came to the regiment's leaders with concerns about the existing clinic's lack of space and equipment, said Army Capt. Matthew Givens, from Columbus, Ga., the battalion's non-lethal effects officer.
Council members and soldiers decided to renovate the existing building by adding more examination rooms, an emergency room and an upstairs apartment for the doctors with two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom.
"This clinic gives the doctors a lot more to work with, and they will be able to treat more patients," Givens said. "With the upstairs apartment, doctors can stay overnight. Before, the doctors would have to come from Baghdad early, then leave and go back to Baghdad that same night."
Wahida has no hospital, Givens said. The new clinic will serve as the city's primary medical facility. It has enough room to bed patients overnight instead of treating them and sending them home.
"The clinic is going to be helpful to the Wahida citizens," Dr. Taher Awaed, the clinic's director, said through an interpreter. "The clinic is good. However, with a few more pieces of equipment, it will be perfect. But everyone is very grateful."
Givens said more equipment, including an X-ray machine, is on the way.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, doctors and medics from 203rd Brigade Support Battalion and 489th Civil Affairs Battalion, a reserve unit from Knoxville, Tenn., attached to 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, held a free medical operation.
Soldiers used four of the new health clinic rooms to treat men, women and children from all over the city. Patients came to the medical staff with ailments ranging from the common cold to blood pressure problems.
"This is a way for me to give back to humanity," said Army Capt. Aaron Wilson, from Watertown, N.Y., battalion surgeon with 203rd Base Support Battalion.
When patients were ready to be seen, they explained their medical issues through an interpreter to a physician or medic from 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
"Going through the translator is tough," said Sgt. 1st Class Wayne Pack, from Knoxville, Tenn., a medic in the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion. "You have to concentrate. You can't lose focus. After the conversation is translated, I sometimes wonder if I'm getting the full story. I enjoy it, though. We get to see a lot of sick people, and that's what we do. Most of these people don't have a lot of money. If we didn't do this, they wouldn't be getting any medical attention at all."
Awaed and Wilson agreed the villagers appreciated the free medical treatment.
"I can see it in their eyes," Awaed said through an interpreter. "They are very thankful for the coalition forces for their help. Together, we just try to help as many people as we can."
"Everyone I saw was so grateful," Wilson said. "They all smiled and said, 'thank you'. I just wish I could do more."
(Army Sgt. Natalie Rostek is assigned to 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs.)