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The army goes rolling along ... medics/dentists support operation Iraqi freedom.

The Army forces that led the liberation of Iraq in April received a full range of medical and dental support from combat medics, dentists, dental assistants, forward surgical teams, a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, combat support hospitals, fixed facilities back in Europe and the United States, and detachments with a wide variety of allied skills. Active and Reserve components were both well represented.

Forward surgical and dental teams were used to provide dental and surgical care close to the point of injury, before critical patients were evacuated to combat support hospitals. "The surgeries here are aimed at saving a life, saving a limb and preventing infection," Maj. Matt Vreeland told the San Jose Mercury News. "If you can clean out an abdominal wound and prevent infection, you can save a life."

"We may not do the definitive operation," said Maj. Rob Bass, a general surgeon with a forward surgical team. "We stop the casualty from bleeding or dying and we evacuate them. If they are stable enough to do the definitive operation, then we'll definitely do that."

"This is really busy, and it's tiring," said Capt. Dale Vegter, a surgical nurse in the operating room. "But this is what we do."

At the peak, the hospital had 51 patients. Some doctors gave up their sleeping cots to make way for injured soldiers.

Dental care on the battle field may be a simple extraction or complex facial injuries requiring surgery. After setting up in Iraq dental teams saw over 300 patients including civilians and Iraqi prisoners.

The MASH loaded its entire hospital into 37 5-ton trucks and five humvees (a type of military light truck) and drove for 78 hours, 300 miles into Iraq to support rapidly advancing infantry. They set up the hospital during a roaring sandstorm.

One medic, Pfc. Joseph Dwyer of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, became something of a celebrity when a photo of him carrying an injured Iraqi child appeared in newspapers and on websites around the world. Dwyer said the boy had a broken leg, and the boy's father brought him to the U.S. soldiers after a firefight.

"The kid was doing all right. I could feel him breathing real hard. He didn't cry one bit, and you know, he was a cute little kid. He was scared, though," Dwyer told USA Today.

Other Army Medical Department members labored to detect environmental hazards, ensure safe food and water and myriad other duties.

As active-duty medical personnel deployed, reservists replaced many of them in U.S. military facilities. Many people at Madigan Army Medical Center, WA, deployed, but Raymond Gyger, regional vice president of the National Association of Uniformed Services, said service didn't miss a beat during the personnel changes.

"I know some of the doctors have been deployed, but l haven't heard of anything that's detrimental in any way, shape or form. It seems to be working smoothly," Gyger told the Tacoma News Tribune.

Three teams and two additional auxiliary personnel were sent for a total of eight personnel. Each Forward Dental Treatment Team consists of just two personnel, a dentist and a dental assistant. It usually takes a single team about four hours to set up their tent and equipment before they can begin providing dental services. The Forward Dental Treatment Team load plan was modified to facilitate a rapid set up for a limited care mission. Initially there was one interpreter provided by the sponsoring unit and later in the day another interpreter came by to help out. Thirty-nine patients were seen --double that of the first mission. Of the 39, only 30 accepted treatment. Thirty-one non-restorable carious teeth were extracted and six teeth received operative dental services (restorations). Iraqis, who get little dental care, waited in line for one of the two chairs, where the most common procedure was tooth extraction, said Capt. Kale Gray, company commander. "Most of the patients come here with teeth decayed almost down to the gum," Gray said. "It's a good service we provide to get people out of their pain and discomfort."

SGM Stephen E. Spadaro, United States Army Dental Command, is the senior enlisted soldier in the Dental Command. He has served in the U.S. Army for 24 years.
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Title Annotation:Army/ADAA
Author:Spadaro, Stephen
Publication:The Dental Assistant
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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