(This is the 5th installment of my friend Andy's dispatches from Iraq, where he serves as a doctor in the Air Force Reserves.)
I may be out of touch for a week or two (or maybe not!) as I am being "forward deployed" to a smaller base in northern Iraq. It seems a ER doc there had a family emergency so I will be going there until they can find somebody else. It should take no more than 1 to 2 weeks as I am desperately needed here as throughout the theater there is a skeleton number of docs (and everything else) as the draw-down continues.
My understanding is that this base is far smaller and has less amenities then my current base which is the hub in Iraq. I believe the hospital is a field (tent) hospital and the labs and imaging are very rudimentary.
As opposed to my own with air-con and a TV I will likely share a tent with 1-2 other docs. My responsibilities will be ER shfts, taking care of the army helicopter pilots and support staff, and in the event we get a critically ill patient fly with the medivac (Blackhawk) helicopter back to balad with the patient.
My job today was to find transportation to my new location. I first checked and saw the C-130's would leave at 0230..in about 90 minutes from now. It would be a comfortable flight for me and I could use the NVG's (night vision goggles) as part of the flight crew..but I didn't want to go without sleep before starting at a new job.
My other option was a blackhawk helicopter. I called the blackhawk squadron and they said a flight to was leaving at 0430..but would first stop in Tikrit (Saddam Husein's hometown) to pick up some VIP's.
My feeling was 2 extra hours of sleep was not worth the risk of flying with VIP's in an airframe that HAD been shot down in Iraq..so I will stick with my C-130 crew. I arrive at my new base at 0600 (approximately) and somebody will be waiting to pick me up. A new adventure awaits.
We had my final Shabbat dinner/service tonight until I return and it was again very nice. Out of a base of 24,000 people (half US soldiers) we have a Jewish contingent of 5-6 at our services. We have a female "Cantor" who runs th service and has a beautiful voice. We also have a orthodox enlisted guy who serves as the rabbi and we all participate. Generally we in unison sing the blessing of the wine and bread and the kaddish and sing all the Shabbat songs.
They are a extremely nice bunch of people and l look forward to going to dinner together every friday night (meet at 530PM) and then go to the services at 700PM.
The bread is made fresh by the orthodox guy in a bread maker and the wine is supplied by the us military. The prayer books on the inside say:
"Dedicated to the gallant men and woman of Jewish decent who choose to defend our country."
They are from the Jewish War Veterans of America.
I realy love going to the services and I feel a very intimate connection with the people. It is another surreal experience. We have 5 Jewish professionals (2 docs, a dentist a nurse and a psychologist) which is not surprising. But we are in Air Force or Army fitness gear, are all (excpet for me-I'll wait until its DEMANDED) wearing sidearms and as the chapel is next to the fight line the background music to the service is often the roar of F-16's.
The location-a base in the middle of Iraq that was once home to Saddam Hussien (hardly a fan of Israel or a friend of his own Jewish population) is another unique variable. When we join together to sing Hebrew songs together that I have been singing since childhood in this environment I really get choked up. It feels nice to belong to a small group where you can have such an immediate and intimate connection with other people. Its nice to be in such an unfilmilair enviroment and be involved in somethng that is like a old blanket since childhood. It reaffirms to me that my faith is important and I am greatful for my childhood Jewish education.
Good Shabbos to all, and happy Friday!-Andy