News: Iraqi medical soldiers turn to US for training
Story by 1st Sgt. David Bennett
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA — Six Iraqi soldiers looked up intently at the diagram on the white board as they crowded around the makeshift operating tables. Then, looking down at their surgical pads, they deftly took up surgical needles to practice their technique.
It was practice involving nothing more than boneless chicken fillets, but the senior medical providers representing three brigades within the 14th Iraqi Army Division acknowledge the advantages nevertheless.
Assisted by the 17th Fires Brigade and the 5214 Military Transition Team in the Basra province, the small group of medical personnel from the 50th, 52nd and 53rd IA brigades gathered at Contingency Operating Base Basra for a unique three-day training course Feb. 22-24 that offered advanced patient care techniques.
The initiative started in January with informal meeting between U.S. medical specialists and Iraqi providers who found themselves stymied by a lack of educational resources.
"We started going to the [Forward Operating Bases]," said Karim Elyamani, medical operations officer for 17th FiB Surgeon Cell. "They were not asking for drugs, they were not asking for anything except for training."
Once the groundwork was laid for what training the Iraqis sought, a small team of 17th FiB instructors, including Elyamani, began pooling their own talents and ideas to create a short curriculum.
Capt. Susan Mosier, 17th FIB division surgeon who helped develop the training program, said over three days, the students were taught various kinds of treatment techniques including physical examinations, simple surgical procedures, cardiac care and preventive medicine.
While some of instruction were not new to some of Iraqi soldiers, the opportunity to see different techniques kept their attention.
"You see a lot of motivation," said Elyamani, an Arabic speaker from Morocco. "They are thirsty for learning."
Maj. Marc Rogers, chief of surgical services for the 915th Forward Surgical Team at COB Basra, said because experience levels of the Iraqi providers varied, U.S. instructors had to tailor their classes for the group.
"We kept it very simple, because we have students of all levels," said Rogers, a resident of North Little Rock, Ark.
The six students followed along as Rogers explained the reason and proper technique in suturing specific wounds. Throughout, a translator converted the medical terms into a language the students could understand.
At the end of the day, Elyamani identified a few things the medical instructors might do better, if they conduct the medical training again. One is to employ a medical translator to help bridge some of the communication gaps that appeared often. He cited one example of translating the term "mattress suture," in a way that all could understand.
Despite some communication challenges, the overall message was clear to Muhammad Hassam, chief medical officer for the 52nd IA Brigade.
"I plan to make a new training program," he said, which, if effective, will develop his subordinates' medical skills as well.
Mosier said her goal is to bring the program to other locations with United States Division-South, where medical personnel can learn and then train their medical staff.
"It's the only way to make this sustainable," she said.