"Cheaters of death" assist Marines wounded in Fallujah turmoil;

15 Apr 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Claudia LaMantia and 1st Lt. Sarah Kansteiner

"You're going to be all right. We're going to take care of you."These were the consoling words echoed repeatedly as the sailors of Bravo Surgical Company, 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group tended to wounded Marines from Operation Vigilant Resolve April 5. The sailors, poised on the outskirts of the restive town of Fallujah, are providing "good medicine in a bad place.""It's different this year," said Navy Lt. Kevin R. Poole, a physician assistant with the surgical company. "Last year we were removed from the sounds of war. This year we are trying to take care of these guys while the mortars are coming in."Despite the persistent distraction of indirect fire, the surgical company remained poised - even as ambulances sped down the road to the medical facility, carrying wounded Marines."I call it organized chaos," said Poole, 36, a Southfield, Mich., native. Sporting flak jackets rigged with surgical scissors, latex gloves, stethoscopes and syringes, the sailors of Bravo Company lined the road ready to respond once a tactical vehicle's tires stopped.Tan and green tents marked triage quickly filled with the wounded. The medical staff resembled bees in a hive as they hovered around each cot, assessed injuries and busily tended to the patients.While doctors and assistants diagnosed patients, corpsmen checked vital signs, administered medications, took X-rays, filled out field medical charts and kept track of each Marine's personal belongings. All the while, the sporadic sounds of incoming mortar fire could be heard in the background.Inside the tents, voices were hushed except for an occasional yell of "X-ray!" as a corpsman alerted the other members of the team to shield their eyes momentarily. The docs paused, took a step back and looked away, their hands still on their patients. One patient drew odd looks from doctors as he answered questions with a raspy voice. Upon questioning from Lt. Cmdr. Inzune K. Hwang, a surgical company doctor, Sgt. Kevin M. Smith, a combat engineer with Combat Service Support Battalion 1, 1st FSSG responded light-heartedly, "Yes, sir, I'm waiting for puberty to hit."The 26-year-old Toccoa, Ga., native managed to bring smiles to otherwise tension-wrought faces and muted laughter filled the room. Even as the docs and corpsman took in the moment, they continued their work - bandaging wounds and tending to their patients. Once patients had been treated in the triage tents, on this day the next step was either the emergency room or the operating room.Two Marines were flown to another hospital to receive additional care. The rest remained with surgical company, recuperated for a few days and then returned to their unit. Smith later attested to the skills of the surgical company."They did a real good job of keeping us calm," he said. "It was kind of like being on a conveyor belt - I saw so many faces."Smith, an avid power-lifter, has gained a bit of weight with pieces of embedded shrapnel now part of his body, but said he will have no problem carrying it around. "I want to get back to my unit so I can start working out again," he said.Most of the service members treated at Bravo Surgical are patched up and returned to their units in days. However, for the sailors of Bravo Surgical Company this cycle will be repeated while Marines and sailors remain engaged in the Al Anbar Province. Poole's goal is simple: to continue to be known simply as the "cheaters of death."