Sunday, February 13, 2005

 

Two of Our Soldiers

I want to report a very inspirational story about two of our soldiers that in some ways is a lot more routine than it may sound. The soldiers acted exceptionally, but only in the context of doing the job they were expected to do. In that sense, what follows is pretty routine for my soldiers, who keep doing the jobs they are expected to do, no matter what.

Two of our female Sergeants (SGTs), one a cook and one a clerk, were posted to assist with searches of female Iraqis who come onto the base daily. While we know such searches are very culturally sensitive – which is why female soldiers must conduct the searches – I don’t think many of us thought about how potentially serious this duty could be. And none of us were too concerned that a cook and a clerk were doing anything that would be "too big a deal."

From the start of their week long duty, we kept getting very positive feedback on them. The unit responsible for manning the gate remarked on their professionalism, seriousness, and thoroughness in searches. They joined in as fully with male searches and other gate guard activities as possible without offending Iraqi male-female cultural norms. It was remarked that they did a better job than the female Military Police (MP) soldiers, who would ordinarily be expected to outperform those soldiers not specially trained.

Of course, that’s partly why our soldiers did so well: we’ve actually been very well trained, especially in the area of detainee operations, male and female searches in accordance with strict guidelines to respect gender privacy (female on female and male on male searches only behind special barriers).

Two incidents made this even more remarkable. On one of the days, gate guard and search personnel were told that there would be a casualty drill, in which an attack would be simulated and personnel would be expected to respond as if this were a real attack.

The attack was announced, and our two soldiers rushed to the location to find six simulated casualties: a killed-in-action (KIA), an arm amputee, a broken leg, a broken hand, a head wound, and a “sucking chest” wound (injury that includes a perforation of the lungs).

Our two SGTs performed “first aid” and triage of the casualties, directed their movement onto litters, and managed an evacuation area. When ambulances arrived, the SGTs advised the medics on wounds and treatment provided.

(The unit in charge of the Gate later reported that at first they were quite upset with our SGTs, as they insisted on tearing open the Combat Life Saver (CLS) bags and tearing open actual sterile bandages. After the drill, when they received very positive feedback at how well this was handled, they realized how important it was to do it “for real,” and that bandages and bags can and would be restocked.)

The last day of their guard/search shift, there was an explosion approximately 200 meters from their location. Small arms fire (SAF) erupted nearby, then suddenly a second explosion. “Take cover!” someone yelled. One of the SGTs led 3 Iraqi males into the search area, as the second yelled for them to come with them to safety. The female SGT bringing up the rear actually held the arm of one of the men, who appeared confused. They were escorted safety to a bunker and told to get down. The two SGTs provided both protection and security, prepared to defend but also ensure that the civilians were neither harmed nor part of some attack. Within 10 minutes, the gate resumed operations. No explanation was given for what happened.

As I picked up our two SGTs that last day, the Sergeant of the Guard couldn’t praise my SGTs highly enough, and wants our two to train all the other female searchers who will be manning that gate for the rest of our stay. My two SGTs also provided me with a very comprehensive description of Female Search duties that we will formalize for our Sergeant of the Guard as well as use for training other Female Searchers.

Our two sergeants did a tremendous job getting a very sensitive and critical detail off to an excellent start. They are highly regarded by both the SGT of the Guard of the Main Gate, as well as by MPs who have become aware of their performance. Their work reflect great credit upon them, our unit, and the Army National Guard!



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