Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The 47th CASH

This evening my team and I were invited to attend the Opening Ceremony of Nurse's Week hosted by the 47th Combat Support Hospital (CASH). National Nurses Week is May 6-12 annually and our 47th CASH includes some 52 nurses and over 100 medics. The American Red Cross was asked to donate giveaways to the event and as a result we were asked to be guests at the Opening Ceremonial dinner this evening in the Main Dining Facility.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but the evening went nothing how I'd imagined. First off, we were the last ones to slip in before the 6:00pm start and the room was absolutely packed, over 150 people. We were escorted to seats front and center and were placed right next to Lieutenant Colonel Ramos, the head nurse. As soon as we sat down, the ceremony began and the Red Cross was singled out and promptly asked to stand again in front of the entire audience to be recognized for out contribution to the event.

We sat down a second time, only to snap back up to attention with the rest of the attendees as the General entered the room. He made humble gestures for all of us to sit as he took the podium and made his opening remarks. He related the now infamous event at our CASH on Easter morning when three causalities were brought in, one was already gone, another was saved with some minor injuries and the last soldier survived...but as a paraplegic. It was quite a speech.

From there we moved onto dinner and I found myself wrapped in discussion with LTC Ramos. I asked her how often the CASH received causalities like the dramatic ones Easter morning and she surprised me by saying every couple of weeks. She revealed heart-breaking stories of soldiers being brought in, dying on the operating table and begging to call their families, but she explained they didn't have a phone. Naively, I thought the problem could be fixed by simply asking communications for the technology. No, she explained, dying soldiers cannot say goodbye to their families. Such contact would alarm the families when the call is disconnected and the frantic families would then call Red Cross to initiate a health and welfare message. If the servicemember does die, then Red Cross cannot verify or pass the message because only the Department of the Army can inform a family of a casualty. I was too speechless to respond.

After dinner, there was cake cutting and a photo slide show, and finally a newly appointed full- bird Colonel was chosen to be the guest speaker. As he prefaced his remarks, he promised his speech would be short because the physicians in the room had already warned him they wouldn't tolerate a rambling soliloquy. As he said this the doctors sitting behind me pulled out their pistols and cocked them! Everyone in the room cracked up and I had to wonder if those weapons were loaded! On the whole, it was a really fun evening and perhaps most importantly, I had been given the opportunity to see life in Iraq from another perspective, from those who see at face value the butchery of war and who truly fight, in the most basic sense, to preserve life.

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