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Medics keeping troops fit, healthy, ready

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Lt. Col. Carolyn Miller tests a blood sample in her laboratory located in a tent hospital that serves thousands of deployed servicemembers supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Derrick Goode)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM -- Lt. Col. Carolyn Miller tests a blood sample in her laboratory located in a tent hospital that serves thousands of deployed servicemembers supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Derrick Goode)

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM (AFPN) -- Medics assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at this forward-deployed location are helping to ensure that the airmen here stand ready for action when called upon.

The combat field hospital where the medics spend their days not only serves the needs of the thousands of men and women who are deployed to this base, but is also a medical evacuation hub for the region.

People injured on the battlefield would first be stabilized where they are injured and then airlifted here, said medical officials. The medical contingent includes people with many specialties: doctors, nurses, laboratory workers, dietary technicians and radiologists, to name a few.

Each works in concert with the others to create a top-notch medical operation, said Lt. Col. Carolyn Miller, director of the field hospital's laboratory.

"My job is to analyze patient blood and body fluid samples," she said. "I help determine any illnesses that may be present, and then assist infectious-disease and other health agencies in confining (patients) to prevent outbreaks."

On a daily basis, about 50 troops are treated in the large military tents that comprise the hospital. Maj. Mary Ellen Winkler, the administrator of the hospital, said she and the rest of the medical staff understand the importance of their mission.

"Everyone deployed to this base has an important mission -- it's our job at the hospital to keep them healthy and to provide quality care when needed," she said. "For me, that means making sure the doctors and nurses have the equipment and medicine they need to get the job done."

The combat field hospital here is a smaller replication of a standard hospital, complete with an operating room, pharmacy, treatment clinics and a medical laboratory. But the similarities end there. These doctors, nurses and attendants wear scrubs over their desert camouflage uniforms, perform medical operations inside military tents, and must be ready at a moment's notice to respond to the threat of biological and chemical attacks.

In spite of these differences and threats, most of these medics say there is no other place they would rather be.

"I know that the job I'm doing here is an important one, and that makes this deployment a lot easier," said Staff Sgt. Cassandra Chaney, an emergency room medical services specialist. "I'm proud to be here, and I'm just glad I'm able to contribute to the overall mission of this base."

There are times when the thoughts of those deployed here turn to home and the everyday luxuries they miss.

"It will be nice to get home and see all of my family and friends. I'm looking forward to that, as well as enjoying a long, hot shower, a choice in meals and going shopping," said Miller. "Basically, I just miss the United States and that thing we call freedom."

While their return date to those everyday freedoms and families has yet to be determined, these medics know that their work here is important - they're helping to keep U.S. service members ready, willing and able to carry out their missions.

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