Monday, May 19, 2008

Visiting Mosul

[as originally published in Hamodia, April 30, 2008]
Mosul, Iraq - 12 February 2008
The convoy moved slowly down the road. Old houses and stores lined the sides, mostly shuttered, many damaged from fighting. Suddenly the third vehicle in the convey moves up and sideways in a flash of light and smoke. Time slows, becomes momentarily silent in the background, overlaid by shouts and curses as the blast wave from the explosion moves down the row of vehicles. The lead vehicles start taking small arms fire, and the turrets turn, looking for the source of the shots and trying to discern where the trigger man for the improvised explosive device (IED) might be hiding.

All the vehicles pull to the sides and Soldiers pile out, and take up positions on the sides, ready for combat. They start to work their way towards the building that seems to be the source of the attack. This is a change to the way we do things here. In the early years of combat in Iraq, soldiers would break contact, moving away from the ambush to regroup before re-engaging the enemy. Now Soldiers go on the offensive immediately, seeking out and engaging the enemy.

While some Soldiers immediately try to close and engage the enemy, others start to care for the injured and call in a Medevac company's UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. The Medevac crew is standing by, and scrambles as soon as they get the word. Once the threat is neutralized (i.e. bad guys killed) and the area secured, the Medevac birds land. The soldiers appreciate the support they get as the UH-60 Blackhawk’s take the patients away to a nearby Combat Surgical Hospital (CSH).

At the hospital on FOB Diamondback, I'm waiting in the Emergency Room with two other chaplains. Similar to a trauma center back in the USA, the CaSH is ready for action and has a chaplain on staff. In addition to that chaplain, the chaplain from the soldier's unit will come to the ER if he gets the word in time. Waiting there with the staff, the chaplain helps them, mainly with a calming presence, and his presence also reminds them of the Kedushah involved in their life saving work.

Once the patient comes in, the chaplain works with the patient, finds out their religious background, identifies any religious needs, davens for his recovery, and talks with the patient, reminding them of Hashem's presence in the world and helping them understand what is happening. While many of the medical staff will treat the patient as a problem to be solved (especially in the emergency room, where 'problems' may very quickly be fatal), the chaplain approaches the patient as a whole person, created in H"s image. More and more, modern medicine is using what is called a 'bio-psycho-social-spiritual' model to make patient care more holistic and much more effective. Chaplains play a big role in that approach.

I'm only there this time because I happen to be visiting Mosul, Iraq to provide Jewish religious support there. The Soldiers are brought in to the ER while we're waiting. Fortunately their injuries are minor, in part due to the new mine resistant vehicles being used here in Iraq, and they'll be back with their friends that same day.