By Sgt. James P. Hunter, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 24, 2008 - Hundreds of Iraqi school children and adults received medical care Jan. 16, when soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, held a medical operation at central Baghdad's Swaib school. Soldiers from 3rd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, handled outer security and crowd control, while Iraqi doctors, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and a dentist worked side by side with their American counterparts to meet the needs of Iraqi citizens.
Doctors saw nearly 300 children and 150 adults that day, said Army Capt. Melvin Jackson, civil affairs officer with 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery.
Only one physician, Dr. Abass, normally is available to react to the people's needs in the neighborhood, and he does not have a staff, money or resources to fully aid his fellow citizens, Jackson said.
Though Abass is regarded as a town hero because of his professionalism and demeanor to aid his Iraqi friends and neighbors, he can only do so much, said Sgt. Jason Torres, a medic with the 1-320th FA's personnel security detachment platoon.
Jackson recalled an Iraqi child about 6 years old who had an ear infection.
"Back in the states, if we had an ear infection we'd go see the local doctor and get the necessary antibiotics or medication to take care of it," Jackson said. "This kid had what I consider a mild ear infection, but because it was untreated or he just didn't have the access to a local doctor or medicine to treat it, he became very dizzy and disoriented, and it messed up his inner equilibrium."
The boy eventually was seen by a local doctor and was taken to the Abu Ghraib hospital outside the area and treated.
"Something mild became worse than it originally was, and for that reason they need local health care to deal with minor issues -- cuts, abrasions, flu -- before it turns into something major like pneumonia, severe ear infection or bronchitis," Jackson continued.
Jackson said he hopes the Iraqi Health Ministry recognizes Abass' clinic as a health care center and provides the clinic with health care personnel to help him treat the people in the area.
Jackson said the medical operation provided a chance for Iraqi and U.S. physicians to reach out to the people in Swaib.
"It highlights Iraqis helping Iraqis," he said. "You have the Iraqi army securing the event. You've got local-national nurses and doctors giving back to the community. Ultimately, the long-term effect of this is to get Iraqis to sustain themselves, and this is a small step towards that."
During the medical operation, the physicians saw everything from upper respiratory infections to toothaches, but the medical care is only a part of the operation's success, Torres said.
"I personally feel this builds a better relationship between us and the Iraqis. Especially when we talk about the medical field, we get to find out what our strengths and weaknesses are," he said. "Most importantly, it benefits the Iraqi people; they get the medical attention they need."
(Army Sgt. James P. Hunter serves in public affairs with the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team.)