By Sgt. Natalie Rostek, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 8, 2008 - With help from U.S. soldiers, work is under way in Salman Pak, about 15 miles south of the Iraqi capital, to revitalize a hospital that has not been fully operational for about five years. Soldiers and leaders from 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, and Team 915 of Company A, 489th Civil Affairs Battalion, from Knoxville, Tenn., attached to 1-15th Infantry Regiment, visited the hospital Feb. 4.
Army Maj. John Wolfe, from Scottsboro, Ala., a 489th Civil Affairs Battalion team leader, said the Iraqi National Police have been using the facility as a headquarters and barracks since 2005.
"The national police were forced by circumstance to work out of the hospital and other key facilities," explained Army Maj. Cliff Faulkner, from Silverton, Colo., commander of Company A, 489th CA. "Now that security has improved, they can give physical possession of key infrastructure back to local residents."
Wolfe said the first step in revitalizing the hospital was negotiating with the city council to relocate the police from the building. The next step is establishing community access to the hospital.
Several council leaders, a leader of the local Sons of Iraq security group, and maintenance representatives led the tour through the hospital's cold, dark halls.
Wolfe said he believes coalition forces and Iraqi leaders can restore the hospital to full operation. If the facility returns to its former capacity, jobs will be available for doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals.
"Past insecurity and sectarian violence kept many medical professionals away," Faulkner said. "We are optimistic that the improved security and stability will permit the return of these professionals and essential services."
Army Capt. Jason Carney, from Knoxville, Tenn., a 489th CA team leader, said changes have been made since the national police vacated the facility. The Sons of Iraq, members of a neighborhood watch-type program, took over security for the hospital, and three doctors see patients daily from morning to early afternoon.
"Doctors and patients are still leery to stay overnight," Carney acknowledged.
Wolfe said the Iraqi Health Ministry is helping fund improvements. The hospital in Salman Pak already has used Health Ministry funds to buy water pipes and porcelain sinks.
"Now we just need to get the people to understand that the hospital is open," Wolfe said.
(Army Sgt. Natalie Rostek serves with the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, in the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)