Monday, December 27, 2010

Gospel Bluenotes Bring the Spirit to COB Adder

They couldn't of come at a better time.  It was between Christmas & New Years, December 27, 2010 to be exact, and people's spirits were getting kind of low.  Most of the soldiers were thinking of their families and friends that they weren't go to see this year.   Nobody really expected salvation but salvation did arrive and it came from the most unlikely source.

Another entertainment group called "THE GOSPELL BLUENOTES" was going to be performing that night and they were going to be joined by a group of soldiers who sing at church services here at Adder.  I am embarrassed to say
that the crowd wasn't nearly as big as the ones that showed up to see the Ultimate Fighting, Heavy Metal or Country & Western. Although fewer in numbers there was simply no comparison to the joy, spirit and meaning they were able to bring to all of us who attended. Here you are stuck in this army camp in the middle of a wilderness during the holiday season and professional gospel singers are singing to you about lives that have known pain, loneliness & despair yet their voices are filled with hope, joy, and redemption. The lead singer claimed that he knew that the soldiers spirit had been sagging and he intended to fill our spirits with hope.

Please take a good look at these pictures and the brief video of this performance and it will give you an idea of what music can do for your spirit.

Because of internet issues it's very difficult to transmit video from Iraq. These brief clips cannot even begin to describe the emotions of this gospel performance held at Adder, Iraq on 12/27/2010.

See the latest pictures!

Major Marty and Physician Assistants, Susan Harcke and Vijay Soprey receive their 'Combat Patches' in a ceremony held in front of the assembled brigade. Colonel Lisa Costanza is seen placing patches on their right shoulders.

Happy Holidays!

This is almost my entire Medical Staff. To my right are my two physician assistants: Susan Harcke and Vijay Soprey. Next (in sunglasses) is captain Gabriel Fabian, the Commander of the unit. All the others are medics: Sean, Annmarie, Erika, Nolan, and Glenn. Several others are missing from the picture.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

USO Show Brings Heavy Metal Band to COB Adder

I don't believe I've ever seen a live Heavy Metal concert and I never considered that to be a loss or something I'd go out of my way to check out.  But when the USO brings entertainment to you on a deployment you'd have to be a complete geek to avoid it.  You have no idea how boring it can be out here.  We work practically seven days/week and unless you're on a mission you never go outside the wire.  There is absoulutely no alcohol allowed, including beer, even when your off duty and officially you're always on duty even when you sleep.  So it's hard not to go when you hear that a rather big name is coming to your miserable outpost it's hard not to stay away.

If you've never seen or heard heavy metal my opinion is you're not missing anything.  On the other hand I have to be fair and say that there were huge numbers of soldiers, mostly younger ones but not exclusively young, who literally were sent into another world when they listened to this band play. Probably most of the younger soldiers were at this concert and they formed a huge mosh pit around the stage. Many of them had an out of this world look on their faces which might of been okay if the music was good.  Well they obviously thought so but I can't say that I liked the music at all.  On the other hand I'm not twenty years old anymore.

It wasn't especially enjoyable but I'm glad I didn't miss it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pictures from Latest Mission

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

In a season of firsts, I celebrate my first Hanukkah in Iraq

One of the ways the military gets you through your deployment is by keeping you very busy. They have to keep you busy because if you had idle time that might create mischief and of course that's the last thing you want to have because it would divert you from your mission.

The week is organized so that all the days blend into each other and there really is no difference between the weekdays and very little difference between the weekdays and the weekend. In fact all the military offices are open 7 days a week. I recognize that I may of lost you there but even though this is considered a war zone we do have different offices. For example, we have a base post office which is run by both containers and US Postal workers who come here as civilians and soldiers go there to mail packages etc and the post office is open 7:30am - 5:30pm 7 days/week. We also have a finance office where you go if your having problems with your pay and they are also open 7 days a week. Your pay is deposited directly in a bank and you're given a swipe card called an Eagle Cash Card. You swipe it and that will transfer some money to the swipe card and when you buy something at the PX, which is also open 7 days a week, you pay for it with this swipe card.

So you never see a check and you never see a pay stub. How do you even know if you're getting paid? You go on line and you see your virtual pay stub. The combat zone is completely digitalized and couldn't function without computers.

Holidays and religious observance is different. We do celebrate holidays and we are encouraged to celebrate our religious holidays but observances are secondary to security concerns. All enlisted soldiers are issued an automatic weapon and the officers are issued handguns which never leaves your side. My patients come to see me carrying their weapons and I'm wearing my holster and a revolver. We also carry our weapons during recreational activities and into the chapel. In these pictures the enlisted soldiers have put down their automatic weapons nearby for the picture but the officers are wearing their sidearms.

The army does want us to celebrate our national and cultural holidays and they want us to celebrate our religious holidays including the Sabbath but everything, including all observances are secondary to security. The base and the mission are functioning 24/7 and you wouldn't dream of asking for time off for any type of holiday because obviously security and the mission trumps everything else. Additionally, everything you do is primarily for the other soldier, your buddy, your unit and the whole mission. Therefore you simply would never want time off to celebrate something for yourself because that would mean that you're putting others at risk which is far worse than putting yourself at risk which is already bad enough.

Our holidays will not be remembered as having the best tasting food or having our favorite delicacies. We're not celebrating reunions with friends and family and the best we could hope for was perhaps a brief phone call or possibly a video connection through this technological marvel called skype. As you can see from these pictures I did get to celebrate Hanukkah at base and it meant a lot.

I certainly didn't get to light candles every night and we didn't get to linger around a table consuming latkes (potato pancakes) and other delicacies. I was with my troop that I'm with 7 days/week and I had to do a lot of improvisation with the holiday delicacies that my family, especially my wife Joan, had sent me.

On the other hand I got to intoduce this holiday to soldiers who had never seen a Menorah lighting before and who were intently interested and were thrilled to participate. It was squeezed into our schedule and everybody eagerly participated, and then it was back to work. I'm very grateful that I was able to get some type of a picture because we had a lot to do. If you look closely you should be able to see a small lit menorah but the real story are the faces and the expressions of the other soldiers which are realy what's important.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Army home grown Ultimate Fighters bring out huge crowd at Adder 'fight night'

I wasn't surprised when I heard soldiers saying that fight night brings out a bigger crowd than at any other event.  I know quite well that young males and females love to go to a whole variety of different types of martial arts.  I've attended WWF/WWE wrestling events with my kids and big groups of their friends.  We've also attended many of the amateur boxing events held in Western Massachusetts most of which I'd be the officiating ringside physician.

I never attended any of the Ultimate Fighting events that have recently become so popular and feature
both very little in the way of rules and the fighters are allowed to fight anyway they wish.  Therefore when I heard  that an Ultimate Fighting event was coming to Adder I assumed that professional fighters had agreed to perform. Well I had it all wrong.  At this army base there are so many individuals that are eager to fight on a stage that this event is held about every 3-4 months and many contenders aren't even placed on the roster because they event can't accomodate everybody who wants to get inside the ring and fight it out.  Memorial Hall was filled beyond capacity and the event was projected outdoors so the others can see. 

To me they fought like professionals and the crowd seemed pleased and loved watching the young soldiers fight until one defeated the other. Apparently ultimate fighting has become a sensation and for several years they've been able to fill sporting arenas and earn a fortune in pay for view receipts.  It is certainly alive and well and I can attest, it's very popular in the military. 

Major Marty

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Entertainment for the Troops

In the tradition of Bob Hope we had some pre-holiday entertainment when a Country & Western Performer called Aaron Tippin arrived on Tuesday, November 22 to entertain us. I've never heard of Aaron Tippin but apparently many soldiers did and there was certianly a core group that were over the top thrilled. Tippin felt right at home with the troops at COB (combined operations base) Adder and he's had a tradition of traveling to military bases to entertain the troops during the holiday seasons. Tippin also stated that when he first started doing these trips, about 20 years ago, he traveled with Bob Hope so he's a living link to Bob Hope's tradition of entertaining troops during World War II.

I doubt I would ever go somewhere on my own to hear a Country & Western Performance but I do like the music and this was a great setting to watch the performance and we didn't have anywhere else to go anyway, Most of my TMC (troop medical clinic) unit went and we did enjoy it.

If you want to know more about Assron Tippin click here.

Major Marty

These Thanksgiving Day Displays were set up outside our DFAC (Dining Facility)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Major Marty's Newest Pictures!

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In case you we wondering, THIS IS WHERE I LIVE

This is my CHU, or Containerized Housing Unit. Notice the size of each of the three units. Mine is the one on your left. Amenities include bomb shelter and blast walls.

Earlier in the blog I described first going to CONUS (Continental United States) Replacement Center at Fort Benning, Georgia and I included two pictures of myself along with my three bunkmates.  This is a permanent structure and we were staying in a real building aka a "hard building" which means a permanently constructed building.  When I got to Kuwait that base has probably been open a few years and maybe after the mission in Iraq is over it will be closed. So for the time being the set up is a large tent built over a concrete floor.

I'm not completely sure why but at my base in Iraq a few years ago, they decided to stop using tents and they brought in what are basically small sub-divided trailer parks called "Containerized Housing Units" call CHUs (pronounced chew). They are basically shipping containers roughly divided into thirds with connected electrical wiring and a built in heater & air conditioner.  The enlisted personnel and the officers below the rank of Major live in CHUs built for two single beds and do not have water and these are called dry CHUs) so the occupants have to go outside to a bathroom/shower that's been installed in either a big trailer or in two separate trailers that are joined together. 

The officers from the rank of Major (which includes me) and up are given the courtesy of a private but even smaller CHU that is only big enough for one person but it does contain a bathroom and a shower and it's called a wet CHU.  The shower is okay but the water pressure is so poor that I try not to use the bathroom and instead I prefer the outside latrines.

If you'd like to see an actual tour of a Chu at Adder I found one on youtube:

If you’d rather skip the Youtube tour I’ll describe it and it won’t take long because there’s not much to say.  There are electric lights with outlets, a small single bed, a single chair and a small wardrobe closet plus a very small bathroom.  There are obviously no cooking facilities since we go to mess halls, which are now known as the DFAC , which is short for Dining Facility.  It’s a generic room for one and if you had a guest it would be a challenge for both of you not to become claustrophobic.  

Officially we are allowed to have guests in our CHU but only of the same sex and the army doesn't mess around with this.  We have been told repeatedly and emphatically that we will be severely punished and prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice if any member of the opposite sex is allowed in your CHU. It's uncanny but these are the army rules. (The army also has very strict rules about officers "fraternizing" with enlisted personnel and because of a scandal involving drill sergeants several years ago they have zero tolerance for sexual harassment.)


In the previous posting "This is where I Live" CHU was listed as an abbreviation for "Compact Housing Unit"
This was an error.  CHU is actually an abbreviation for "Containerized Housing Unit.  The correction has already been applied.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sick Call At The TMC (Troop Medical Clinic)

The soldiers were waiting for me in great numbers as soon as I arrived.  Of course not for me personally, they are waiting for the "doc" and trying to take advantage of their down time.  In return for joining the military and agreeing to serve wherever they are sent soldiers are assured that they will be provided with all their basic necessities including medical care.  Getting it to them is the responsibility of their officers while in this case they simply have to show up.  Once they've checked in they can take advantage of their down time.  Soldiers often have to work extremely hard but they are also accustomed to being asked to wait and almost no one is worried about how long the wait is going to be.  They've been accounted for and it's all out of their hands. 
Sick call means you show up and wait to be seen since the TMC (Troop Medical Center) doesn't make appointments.  Military medicine is now highly computerized and it's gone from being a backwater medical service to among the most advanced and highly computerized medical services anywhere but at this location everyone is urged to come at 8am when we first start seeing patient because it's first come first served. It's all very similar to how most things are done in the army and nobody is surprised.


I'm staffing what's known as a Level 1 Battalion Aid Station (BAS)  but in this setting it's also referred to as the TMC .  This is the entry level medical facility and there is also a small army hospital, know as a level 2 in the vicinity

During a war when the front is actually changing the entire facility is packed up in trucks and can be on the move rapidly.  During hostilities you don't wait until the wounded arrive you anticipate it.  Ideally the the medical command is briefed as to when an offensive is going to take place and they should try to set up their BAS as close to the front as possible so that you're fully staffed and waiting for the first wounded to arrive.  Fortunately, even though there are explosive devices and some firefights on the roads daily, Camp Adder & Tallil Air Force Base has a very secure perimeter and we only have to infrequently worry about rockets and mortars.  

There is a lot of history associated with my base.  The building I'm in was part an Iraqi Air Force complex and was reportedly part of the operations center for Sadaam Hussein's cousin and henchman, Ali Hassan al-Majid, the notorious Chemical Ali.  The planes that dropped poisonous gas on the Kurds as well as on Iranian targets during the 1980 - 88 Iraqi-Iranian War took of from Tallil.  What a terrible history but at least this section is now a health care facility.

At enormous expense all building including our housing units have been surrounded with 20-25 foot high reinforced concrete walls known as T walls, which are lifted and positioned by cranes to protect against rockets and mortars.  In addition to the T walls all structures have nearby bomb shelters utilizing the reinforced concrete that are also covered with layers of sandbags.

My Aid Station (or TMC) like many facilities is understaffed.  The doctor I relieved actually got on the same military plane to leave Iraq that I arrived on so we never got to even speak to each other much less sign off.  There's supposed to be a physician plus at least two Physician Assistants but for now I'm it. 

On the day I did arrive I was very pleased to learn that the army hospital has assigned one of their physicians, Dr Findlay, to staff the TMC until I got set up. When I met Dr Findlay I could immediately see that she is simply a class act and a great physician.  She's an experienced army physician and one of those very special people.  She has three young children including an infant and her husband is also an army physician.  She has several more months at Adder but says when that's over she'll be leaving the army so she can spend more time with her children.

Given that they're so short of medical providers I'm surprised that they're allowing so much time for my orientation until I discover what I believe is the answer is.  The answer is computers & technology.  I soon learn that in order to start seeing patients I need to be up and running with either four or five different computer systems each with it's own user ID and passwords.  I've also never seen such requirements for user names & passwords. My main password has to be entered twice for each individual patient and it has 16 separate key entries, which must include several upper case and lower case letters plus several additional symbols.  Only the army could create such a monstrosity.

The soldiers are waiting for their doctor to get ready and I'm over ripe to finally get started.  I've gone through all the years of my medical training and went on to run my own practice for eighteen years.  I turned eighteen in 1969 while the Viet Nam war was escalating but Uncle Sam left me alone because I was registered at City College of New York. 

Even though I was at best a fair student who consistently underachieve the student deferment held and I was never drafted.   Long after the Viet Nam war ended I somehow completed my undergraduate education and went on to become a physician and three months ago I recertified in Family Medicine for the third time.  Six years after 9/11 I crossed paths with a National Guard medical recruiter who looks me in the eye and tells me that the army desperately needs physicians like me. The deal is one weekend a month, two weeks a year and 120 days of active duty with 90 days in theatre if there's a national emergency and I'm called up.  Yes, there is a national emergency now, the same one that started on 9/11.

The army would still take a full year to process my application and slowly things start to move.  I'm sworn in and I go to my drills for almost a year and I'm scheduled for my four weeks of basic training.  The weekend drills do not seem significant and my life really hasn't changed one bit until months later when I'm given a deployment date and then it all changes rapidly.  The past was all an abstraction with privileges, then preparation and now it's show time.  I'm pretty good with the first three computer systems, the fourth I'm still sketchy with and I'm not going to get oriented on the fifth one until the following day.  I'm now in "theatre" and I've decided that I'm going to start in the morning and everything else I'll learn on the job.  

There are four medics who will be working with me and they are the greatest.  They've been in the infantry and some of them have worked in the convoy escort vehicles. They couldn't be more welcoming and seem so glad that there's a physician for this TMC.  Meanwhile I'm trying to express to them how honored I feel to be able to work with them and contribute something to this war which will have lasted ten years before my enlistment is over.  This will be my first day treating patients in a war zone and for the moment everything has come together to make this a first day for me unlike any other first day of my career.  I want to give thanks that I have been allowed to treat our soldiers and I pray that I will meet their needs.

The day has flown by and I hardly realized that I should be taking breaks. Every day is similar and if it wasn't for all these computers and the passwords that take forever to enter I would be even more productive.  Now I understand why it's called An Army of One".     

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The way to Iraq starts in Kuwait

I can’t say exactly when but I arrived in Iraq a few days ago after extensive additional processing in Kuwait. The two countries border each other and the distance was not that great however, the ordeal of traveling by military aircraft (the cargo bays get transformed into patient areas where you huddle down sitting on beach chair webbing secured with straps, ropes and clips) kept you on your toes. Additionally, we wear all our battle gear including full flak jackets, helmets, weapons and ammunition.

It was actually a lot of fun but we were already sleep deprived and this ordeal started at midnight and wasn’t over until noon the next day. It was stressful but it was so much fun and I wouldn’t have missed it for all the sleep in the world.

The military doesn’t want you to simply fly from the states to Iraq and the entire process has been carefully thought out into a series of gradual steps and transitions. I didn’t fully expect this and I actually thought that this would be more like a mad dash and you’ll learn things on the job. The military has discovered and become big utilizers of Power Point, focus groups, Instructor evaluations, equal opportunity clauses and they have an abundance of senior officers with a wealth of experience that are available for lectures and round table discussions.

The army calls their style of preparation and meetings “briefs” and they have nothing to do with brevity. Before I left Massachusetts I had several days of “briefs”. Whatever was discussed was again repeated in Texas and most of the same material was again repeated in Kuwait and repeated again when I got to Iraq. Before you get your equipment the quartermaster gives you a brief, before you go on the firing range that chief gives you a brief and before you’re allowed on the airplane the pilot and crew chief gives you a brief.

I’m in the general area of Tallil Air Base (google knows all about Tallil) and it is a big complex. It is presently quite quiet but there are signs of war everywhere. The area is covered with large reinforced concrete walls and sandbags and everybody now carries weapons with magazines but the area is quite secure and we are relaxed.

I no longer live in a tent I now live in a trailer park that has been transformed into barracks. Officers above the rank of Captain get their own room with water while the others have to share a room and have to go outside to either the male or female shower room. Toilets in the military are referred to as latrines which are porta-johns which are located all throughout the camp. There are endless rows of these trailers (as far as the eye can see) separated by blast walls, concrete bomb, shelters and sandbags. Everything has been built over flat arid dessert and the base and our trailer park home is barely shielded by a single tree.

I ‘m allowed to say that I will be working at the TMC (troop medical clinic) for the 224th Sustainment Brigade. I won’t explain what a Sustainment Brigade is but if you’re interested Google will give you a concise explanation

They also issued us these combat shirts, Boonie Hats (like the Australian's wear) because they have better protection from the sun, and I got the same set of cold weather gear that the soldiers in Afghanistan get for the winter even though it's 100 degrees every day.

The main thing they seem to emphasize is that you wear a proper uniform, carry your weapon (I have the Baretta pistol) & display your ID at all time. They also keep reminding us to report any acts of sexual harassment and that married soldiers that commit adultery will be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Depending on whose calendar you’re using day #1 of my 90 day deployment (I refer to it as my Diaspora) is the day I arrived in Kuwait which was either 10/23 or 10/24. We had thought that day #1 might be the day I arrived in Iraq, which was 10/27.

I actually saw some patients today but will write again after I catch up on my sleep and get more settled into Iraq.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Welcome to the CONUS replacement center. For those who do not know, CONUS stands for Continental United States. The term CONUS replacement center has a lot of significance in army circles.

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