EDITORS’ NOTE: The following dispatch was received from Richard L. Klingler, MD LTC MC USAR, U.S. Army 310th MP Battalion, recounting the battalion’s deployment to Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq.
AD DIWANIYAH, Iraq (BP)–It was 3 a.m. Although the sun’s rays had retreated hours before, its hot breath refused to dissipate from the steppes of Kuwait’s Ad Dibdibah plain. The heat attacked us from all sides. Airborne sandy powder hung above us and dimmed lights as if in a London fog.
One by one, all members of the battalion encircled our small “Band of Brothers” and cluster of convoy vehicles — they had, without being ordered, chosen to wish us safe passage on our sojourn to Iraq. As the chaplain prayed, we all wondered if our souls were ready should He request an inventory of our lives.
My army unit was being tasked for a mission in Iraq. That morning, I prepared to move out with a small lead element that was to reconnoiter an area where the main body would relocate — our destination was Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq. This was south of Babylon where civilization had begun.
Intelligence briefings warned that insurgents had been active along the route we were to travel. Appropriate Force Protection info was given — suddenly, the saliva in my throat grew to a dry, furry tennis ball; swallowing failed to ameliorate the choking sensation.
Why was I there — in Kuwait — and now heading for Iraq? Collectively, that question was infecting us all. In retrospect, I believe God had had a hand in my being allowed to serve in the military in a time of war. Although a 9mm pistol hung from my belt, He allowed me to serve Him, and the Army, without it ever leaving its sand-encrusted holster.
The sun, a most unwelcome fiery orb, soon began its westward migration, and our vehicles, pregnant with supplies, groped the sizzling hardball with the speed of a glacier. Each glance, form right to left, recorded a cerebral picture as vivid as a 10 billion pixel image — charred tank skeletons, gun emplacements that had lost their duels with “smart bombs,” breached sandy berms and towns with masses of children attacking us with smiles and thumbs up gestures.
Although I was tasked to keep our battalion’s health in check, my real job was waiting for me up the road. My itinerary was prepared by God, and the Army afforded the venue.
Serving in a fixed base, air-conditioned “C.A.S.H” hospital (where everyone wore daily fresh fatigue uniforms) was not to be — instead, I was to travel, eat, sleep and suffer with a line unit. Working out of a canvas M-5 aid bag was as high-tech as it got. I, the PA, nurse and medics were tapped to minister to wounded Iraqis and Islamic insurgents in the city prison.
Upon arriving at our destination — Camp Edson — the U.S. Marines greeted us and did all they could to assist us in our mission. Soon, a dedicated Iraqi physician showed up at the compound gate and asked for our assistance. The city hospital was critically low on medicine and supplies. After visiting the local hospital, I realized that God was again involved in my odyssey.
Although not officially sanctioned, the medics “procured” a huge cache of medical supplies. Daily, we made our way to the hospital where the medicines were received with smiles of biblical proportions. That Iraqi hospital was choked by a sea of desperate souls — limbless, weak, filthy and dying. Looking into their eyes told vivid stories about how miserable things had been.
Work at the prison, meanwhile, was grueling, hot, frustrating and endless. Within its sand-colored walls were fly-infested cells that reeked. I often thought of the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta and how similar it must have been to where we worked. Al Qaeda, Baath Party and street thugs were crammed into sweltering cells. All seemed to have an eclectic array of maladies — infected bayonet/gunshot wounds, abscesses, burns and festering, maggot-laden sores.
Administering whatever antibiotics we had to the sick would have triggered a peer review investigation in the U.S.; however, there, by God’s hand, no matter what was used afforded improvement, and the wounds healed.
Despite the heat, sweat, filth and flies, seeing the prisoners’ smiles on our daily rounds made me believe that what was being done, as crude as it seemed, was appreciated. Again, God was there.
My tour of duty eventually came to a close. My exit from Iraq was in the belly of a Marine helicopter. After liftoff, I gazed down at the barren, lifeless-appearing Syrian Desert and reflected on my mission — I was blessed to have served my country, fellow soldiers and the wounded enemy. Somehow I know that our efforts made a difference.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PARTING THOUGHTS.