Navy Docs prepare to shove off, make way for Army

24 Aug 2003 | Army Spc. Samuel A. Soza

Navy medics gained a reputation for compassionate and dedicated service during Operation Iraqi Freedom. For one Navy medical unit, that service is about to come to an end.

For members of Forward Resuscitative Surgical System 1, this means preparing to hand off control of Camp Babylon's medical facilities to the soldiers of the 160th Forward Surgical Team, based in Landstuhl, Germany.

The 160th will complete their setup in late Auguest and be able to treat coalition troops in central and southern Iraq.

The FRSS, the only medical unit in theater to be replaced by another American unit, plans to stay an extra 24 hours before leaving and will assist the 160th until they are used to the daily routine.

In the meantime, the soldiers of the 160th have been taking advantage of their time with their Navy counterparts by trading information, resources and contacts.

"As they depart they will transfer knowledge, supplies, and living space," said Army Lt. Col. Alfonso Alarcon, 39, commander and orthopedic surgeon for the 160th, the only active duty FST left in Iraq. "This also allows for some joint training."

The Navy medics will be leaving about $100,000 worth of disposable medical items such as bandages, syringes and other items for the incoming soldiers.

The Navy surgical unit has also laid down a logistical foundation for the 160th. A casualty evacuation system has already been set up.

The Navy doctors have earned a reputation with the troops operating in this area for providing outstanding medical care, which the Army will fall on in as well.

"It's a very nice opportunity to work with the Navy," Alarcon, a native of San Diego, said.

When the 160th sets up shop, the number of available medical staff will increase from 8 to 20. Also, the 160th will be able to provide more beds for patients, as well as two additional intensive care units for patients who need more extensive recovery treatment.

The soldiers have arrived also with capabilities to treat dental problems, take X-rays, run two operating tables, and conduct lab work.

According to Alarcon, the forward surgical team will double the amount of medical means in Camp Babylon. The camp's medical capabilities were already ranked as level 2, meaning the medics are able to treat individual cases where loss of life, limb, or sight is imminent. Now, with the increase in personnel and equipment the medics will be more able to administer that aid.

Only the 28th Combat Support Hospital at Logistics Support Area Dogwood, located about 10 miles south of Baghdad, boasts a higher medical care rating.

As for the mission of the 160th, it will almost replicate what FRSS-1 had been doing thus far.

"Out here the mission is to provide surgical support for all sorts of trauma. Car accidents, gun shots, etc," said Navy Cmdr. Steven R. Medina, First Marine Expeditionary Force senior medical planner, from Carlsbad, Calif.

Part of the evolving mission of the 160th will be to support the Polish-led Multinational Division, which will soon receive authority for southern Iraq from the Marines, said Alarcon.

"Very few Army units get to work with Navy, Marines, and 22 countries," he added.

The 160th arrived in Iraq in March and has since supported the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul and the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division in Al Fallujah. They are also the only remaining active duty forward surgical team in Iraq.

As for FRSS-1, in coming weeks they will regroup and possibly do further healthcare work in Ad Diwaniyah before taking the trip home.