Thom Stoddert 

Agent Orange Clearing the Confusion
Being in the military offers a soldier an education that very few civilians ever receive. Being a medic in the Army gives one a view into a world that few in the military ever see. That was driven deeply home to me when I was assigned as an evening-night nursing supervisor at an evacuation hospital in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. We rode all night in a yellow school bus (it’s all they had for us) packed full of equipment to the planned sight for the hospital we were going to build. At dawn we stopped for a break and looked around at the stark emptiness of the dessert. I heard an NCO come down the steps behind me and gasp “No shit, Dorothy, this aint Kansas.”

The 12th Evacuation Field Hospital, was built way out in the middle of no-where. It not only received injured American and coalition forces, but anybody who showed up at the door. Whether they came by helicopter or in a Bedouin pickup truck, they were treated with compassion and hospitalized if necessary. One especially tragic patient was a 17 year old Iraqi soldier. He was in a bunker faced off against coalition forces.

Things were not looking good, so he headed off across the desert in a direction where he believed he would be safer. Instead a roving patrol of Iraqi Republican Guards found him, shot up his legs, and left him to die. Later a British unit found him and rushed him to their medics, who amputated his legs to save his life before bringing him to us.

The Brits could have left him there and continued on with the mission, but they didn’t. At the 12th Evac he was stabilized further. He was doing well till a nurse approached him to see if he was hungry. Not understanding, he froze rigid in the bed, not moving or looking at any one. The Kuwaiti interpreter was brought to his bedside and asked what was wrong. The kid instead asked when he was to be executed by us. That is what he expected in his culture.I know the other nurses were also asking themselves - was all this cruelty necessary

? A few days later that scene was repeated. He had picked up that he was to be moved to another hospital. He didn’t understand it was for rehabilitation not execution. As the interpreter was calming him down, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of his knees and feet from under the sheets. It was his enemies, strangers from far away who showed him compassion. A few weeks later the intercom blared for everyone to assist at the helipad, casualties inbound. I could see to the north three or four CH-47 Chinooks flying strait at us, fast and low. As the stretchers were coming out I was shocked – they were children. A rebellion had taken place against the Iraqi government in the Euphrates Valley and the young patients had been caught in the middle. American tank units witnessed the fighting and rescued the children.

The little 7 year old girl that I was assigned to in the intensive care unit was covered in head bandages and all day long she would call out for Waleed. Though there were some parents there, none would come over to console her till I asked the interpreter for help. He brought one parent that I had seen the day before wearing parts of an Iraqi Army uniform. The Iraqi parent told us that the girl was from his village, but he did not know who Waleed was. At that point the Iraqi made himself scarce. During the weeks that followed there were many more, Iraqi men with cancers, a Bedouin girl who fell on a steel tent stake somewhere out in the desert, an Iraqi woman who had given birth to a baby with spina-bifida. Medical facilities for these people were either non-existent or many hours away by Toyota truck. I chuckle now – American soldiers have never been socially sophisticated compared to what I saw in Europe, but as an individual or group they have always provided for the underdog with mercy.

In Vietnam I saw the aftermath of what the North Vietnamese did to the civilians in Hue, they had slaughtered several thousand, a fact that PBS’ Ken Burns failed to point out in his documentary. Instead the American military dispatched teams of medics to far out villages. Medics loved that duty because it helped so many who had nothing – also not pointed out by PBS. I kept thinking - how was it is that people to whom we were foreigners and/or enemies would bring us their sick and injured family members. The only reasonable answer for me may have been the morals and values that we (and the Brits) have rooted in our Judeo-Christian traditions.

Matthew 5:43 You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

What Are We Made Of?

Thom Stoddert
Thom Stoddert
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