Two injured Marines were brought into the Shock Stabilization Team / Trauma Bay from Al Qa’im, Iraq, at 3 a.m. One had abdominal injuries with a huge exit wound and much extremity damage. Bleeding profusely, his blood pressure was dropping and nothing helped. Then it was over.
The other injured Marine spoke to Karen, the nurse officer.
“Ma’am, I’m just wondering if you could tell me how my buddy is doing?”
She decided to tell him the truth. “I walked over to him; I took his hand, and I shook my head. I told him that his friend wasn’t going to be OK. I told him we really tried.”
“He started crying then, and I held his hand, and we cried together for a little while.”
The nurse tried to stand so the man wouldn’t see her boots, but he did.
“Ma’am, is that my friend’s blood on your boots?”
She nodded yes.
All he said was, “Thank you, ma’am, for taking care of my Marine.”
For Navy Lt. Cmdr., Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft and her comrades in Alpha Surgical Company, such examples of loyalty, bravery and courage were not unusual. In fact, they were overwhelmingly common.
They’re also not what you get in Iraq war news coverage. Those reports ignore the daily bravery of our military.
Dr. Kraft says injured military exhibited “courage unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.”
“Having them tell us, one after another, through blinding pain or morphine-induced euphoria, ‘When can I get out of here? I just want to get back to my unit.'”
NBC refused to air holiday ads, prepared and sponsored by the non-profit group, Freedom’s Watch. The ads simply thank our troops and show people expressing gratitude to the military. But NBC said the American people can’t see them.
Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft is a Navy psychologist called to active duty in a combat zone to treat Marines for combat trauma. She had 11 days notice to deploy. She did, leaving her former Marine pilot husband and 15-month-old twins at home with her parents there to assist. Leaving her babies was more than difficult.
Her experiences of more than seven months in 2004 at Al Asad Air Base with the men and women of Alpha Surgical Company – to say nothing of the injured Marines – are unforgettably presented in her wonderful book.
I read “Rule Number Two: Lessons I learned in a Combat Hospital” (Little, Brown and Company, 2007) and had the honor of speaking with Dr. Kraft on my KSFO Radio program. Then, I read the book again. I’ve never read a more moving, realistic, honest and personal military account from the unique point of view of a doctor, servicewoman, mother, wife and American.
The title is from “M*A*S*H:” “There are two rules of war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can’t change rule number one.”
She writes vividly of dangers, incoming attacks, fears, a convoy into enemy territory, the horror of injuries and death, the psychic injuries of survivors, the grueling work schedule of days without sleep, missing home, to say nothing of living in temperatures reaching 132+ degrees and desert bats. Don’t even ask about the camel spiders, scorpions and latrine showers!
It leaves scars, but new friends, changed lives and individual stories of courage – yes, good events – enable the medics’ emotional survival.
She tells of the “triage request for combat stress.” Four Marines were injured by an IED, and she was called to the scene. Three men had bloody shrapnel wounds but were ambulatory.
But their sergeant lost an eye – the lid was intact, but just a thin stem of optic nerve remained in the empty socket.
He was told “yes” when he asked if he could open the other eye.
“The Marine asked for help to sit up, opened his intact eye, and scanned the passageway. He recognized the members of his fire team, who by now had their shirts off and were having their wounds dressed. He silently counted them.
He sighed with a smile, and gingerly lowered himself back to the cot.
“Thanks, Doc,” he said, closing his eye. “I only have one good eye, but I can see that my Marines are OK.”
Dr. Kraft told me Marines are special, with training that develops people bigger than themselves, with pride in their sense of duty, loyalty and country.
But more than that, she told me, “They have character, which cannot be taught.” It adds up to courage and bravery.
NBC, through Rick Cotton, general counsel and Alan Wurtzel, research president, said it can’t run the holiday appreciation ads because the inclusion of Freedom Watch’s web address “encourages political action.” NBC claimed it was concerned about people with “deep pockets” using ad time to affect public perception.
The network didn’t say how thanking our military for their sacrifices is a negative.”
One afternoon mass casualties were brought in – 14, with a variety of horrific injuries.
The corporal was first, a tube down his throat, his head swathed in bloody gauze. He had two entrance wounds to the frontal lobes of his brain and made no meaningful movement.
“His name, written in black ink on his bare chest, was Dunham.”
He was moved to the “expectant ward,” which meant he’d be given pain meds and support until he died. One physician asked Dr. Kraft to hold Dunham’s hand. From his ID, they learned he was Cpl. Dunham, he was a Methodist, his initials were J.L. The chaplain prayed and they waited for his breathing to stop.
It didn’t. At one point, Dr. Kraft felt him squeeze her hand; then, so many times, that she asked him in his ear, “Corporal Dunham, Can you hear me? If you can, squeeze my hand again – now!”
He did, and with that he was moved immediately into intensive care with preparations made for medical evacuation. Dr. Kraft held his hand and talked to him until the chopper took off.
Then she cried.
Dunham was taken to Baghdad, then Germany and then Washington for further surgery. He’d promised his parents he’d come home alive.
Ten days later, she learned that Cpl. Jason Dunham died at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. His parents were there to withdraw life support.
A week later, Dr. Kraft learned that Cpl. Dunham wasn’t “just” injured. He had thrown himself on a grenade. To save his men, he placed his helmet over a live grenade and tucked it under his body. For his selflessness he was nominated for the Medal of Honor.
Dr. Heidi Kraft became friends with the corporal’s mother Deb, and was invited to be at the White House in January 2007, when President Bush presented the Dunham family with their son’s Congressional Medal of Honor.
Dr. Kraft says it was the single proudest day of her life.
NBC also objected to images in those spots thanking troops which show military uniforms and vehicles. They asked for proof of government approval for such use.
Dr. Kraft worked with a Marine who earned three Purple Hearts in two months, now had his forearm blown away and felt guilty about being afraid his luck was running out. He was 19.
She recalled the survivor of sniper attack, which killed the captain and traumatized the corpsman. The third man was a triple amputee, losing both legs and one arm. Still he told jokes, telling her “It’s just far too serious in here, ma’am. You guys need to lighten up!”
When the chopper came for him, he waved with his one arm and gave them all a thumbs-up. He also gave the punch-line of the joke “How many Irishmen does it take to change a light bulb?”
The answer is in the book!
Filled with righteousness, NBC’s refusal made them look the fool, and they took heat for it, including calls for a boycott. They backed down Saturday and announced they’d “reviewed and changed our ad standard guidelines.” The ad will run.
We have heroes in uniform; some people aren’t worthy to polish their shoes.
We owe more than we can say to our troops and military like Dr. Heidi Kraft and those she worked with for their selfless dedication to preserving our freedoms. I thank them all, knowing full-well there’s no way to ever repay them except to honor our freedoms.
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