Caring on the Iraqi front lines

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After originally enlisting to become a combat medic in the Army Reserve nine years ago, Army 1st Lt. Khara Keegan, a native of Sioux City, Iowa, enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy, at West Point, N.Y., where she graduated and received her commission in the Military Intelligence Corps.

“I like my current job a lot, but the medical profession is where my heart is,” said the 26-year-old security officer, who’s serving with the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team.

Keegan was reunited with her passion for providing medical care only four days after arriving in Iraq. At the Smith Gate Burn Clinic, she encountered a 2-year old Iraqi boy who was badly burned on his legs, his stomach and his left arm.

“I didn’t want to be emotional, but I could tell the boy was in a lot of pain,” Keegan recalled. “I cleaned off his dead skin and applied ointment and a wrap for protection while his parents were holding him and consoling him.”

After only that initial treatment, the boy was smiling and holding hands with Keegan.

“He will need treatment for weeks,” Keegan said. “The patients here are authorized to have their bandages changed and re-dressed three times per week.”

Keegan and about 700 soldiers of 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, are taking over operations at the convoy support center. The brigade headquarters is located at Contingency Operating Base Adder in Tallil Air Base, about 200 miles south of Scania.

The burn clinic’s current noncommissioned officer in charge is hopeful the Long Knife Brigade soldiers will continue what the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade started.

“I didn’t know what the new unit was going to do,” said Army Sgt. Joe Burzeski, a combat medic assigned to the Strike Hold Brigade. “I’m seeing the 1st Cav. soldiers come in and volunteer on their down time, so I can go home at peace knowing this clinic will continue and prosper.”

The burn clinic operates with mostly volunteer personnel and supplies that are shipped into Iraq from various hospitals in the United States. Burzeski was one of the first medics assigned to the clinic when he arrived more than a year ago. At the time, the staff of two to five soldiers worked inside a 20-foot shipping container with very few supplies. Today, the clinic accommodates about 40 patients per day inside the same structure.

“As soon as I heard about this place, I knew I had to help out,” Keegan said. “Today, I saw immediate results from my efforts; that’s why I like the medical profession.”

Keegan said she plans to volunteer at the burn clinic as much as her primary mission allows.

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