By Spc. Ryan Stroud
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs
BAQUBAH, Iraq - Capt. Henry Shih had one mission on his mind – the delivery of medical books to Iraqi doctors in Baqubah, Iraq.
Even a night of rainfall, muddying up most of the roads in Baqubah, would not stop him from achieving his goal. He gathered Soldiers to help him deliver almost 1,000 medical books, donated by a Boy Scouts of America troop, located in Fort Hood, Texas, to a group of doctors in desperate need of the material.
Shih, who is the brigade surgeon for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was hoping these books could achieve a goal he has been working towards for almost six months – share medical information and break down the barriers between the coalition forces and the doctors of the Diyala province.
The idea for the mission started for Shih when he was finally invited to a monthly conference between doctors in Diyala, a conference he has frequently requested to be a part of.
Shih gathered up the books and made his way into the heart of Baqubah, ready to bring information to a hospital that was in desperate need of medical material.
"Today I went to the Al Batol Women's and Children's Hospital to partake in a monthly conference between local Iraqi doctors," said Shih. "All the doctors from (Diyala) will come to this conference for continuing education.
"This was the first time I was invited to the conference," he proudly continued. "I felt it was a privilege to be asked. After five months, they have begun to trust me more and that's why they have invited me to deal with them more directly - to become a part of their physician group and join the conference. Before, they had denied me access to the (meeting), so I feel this is a big step for us."
As Shih entered a room full of local Iraqi doctors, he was warmly greeted and a smile quickly ran across his face. He was even asked to speak about the topic of the day – polio in Iraq.
"Today's meeting was a discussion on polio in Iraq," said Shih. "One of the doctors went to a conference in Jordan, discussing polio in the Middle East. He came back to share his information with all the other doctors."
"I brought a lecture on several types of (polio and paralysis) that I shared with the Iraqi doctors, discussing how we see it and how we treat it in America," he said. "I wanted to compare and contrast what treatments were available here (in Iraq) and how they diagnose and perceive these diseases out here."
As Shih's lecture came to an end, he spoke with Dr. Homm S. Malallah, the General Director of Health in Diyala, about other issues and how the coalition forces and 3rd BCT could help.
"We talked about the needs, including security, of the hospitals in the area, but their biggest issue is Baqubah General Hospital," said Shih. "That is the only trauma center in Diyala. All the civilians, Iraqi police and Iraqi army have to go to Baqubah General Hospital and the biggest concern is security, which is preventing patients from coming to Baqubah.
"(Security of the hospitals) is a major step with us helping them get back on their feet, and is making it to where their infrastructure works without depending on us too much," he added.
Soon after Shih spoke with Malallah, the books arrived to the great surprise and delight of the doctors.
"If you go to any of the Iraqi hospitals, there is a great need for books and equipment...so I hope this helps," Shih said. "That's why we delivered several hundred medical books that were collected by the Boy Scouts at Fort Hood, from local physicians in the local Fort Hood area. These books cover areas of all different specialties which will greatly contribute to their medical library.
"I think they were pretty happy with (the books)," he said. "They all looked pretty interested in what we brought them and what they can use."
Malallah went through the stacks of books with excitement and pride.
"This is so nice," Malallah said. "The books will help fill the shelves of our medical library."
The library, which is located across the hall from where Shih gave his lecture, is full of bookshelves, but hardly any books.
"(Malallah) said he was very grateful for the books," Shih said. "All the doctors here are really bright, they are well educated, they just don't have the equipment or the materials to be able to practice to the level that they are capable of practicing."
Shih said he hopes these books encourage the doctors to stay in Diyala and help their people. Many doctors are fleeing to safer areas due to threats they have received from dealing with the coalition forces.
"A lot of doctors have left Iraq because of the threat to them," said Shih. "I think they are afraid of dealing with the coalition forces because if you are seen with Army Soldiers, you become a target for the insurgents.
"I think this is part of a rebuilding effort," said Shih. "They are learning to work with us and let us help train them, and in turn, they also train us. This will help rebuild the health care system here. I know this will help them to become more self sufficient; it will help the citizens in the area, plus the other units who might come in (after us)."
As Shih was leaving the hospital, a group of doctors gathered around him to thank him for his time and efforts to help the hospital.
"I think this was a very positive mission," said Shih. "We went out there and accomplished something, we covered some solid ground. We contributed great books to their library, shared materials and information with them, and I hope this encourages other doctors to make an (extra effort to visit) the local hospitals.
"It was a mission of sharing information and breaking down barriers," he said. "We (the U.S. Army and 3rd BCT) are here to help them and that's what we're going to do."