Women Medics Earn Respect in Combat
August 28, 2007
KIRKUK, Iraq (American Forces Press Service, Aug. 28, 2007) - Temperatures exceeded 115 degrees during the recent five-hour mission in Amerli. More than 50 Soldiers were on site and tensions were high; Amerli was the scene of a massive suicide truck bombing just four days earlier.
Soldiers kept alert, but visibly struggled under the weight of dozens of pounds of battle gear. Throughout the sun-scorched day, all but two Soldiers limited their movement as much as possible. All but two could afford that luxury.
"Bolo" and "Collver" continuously walked up and down the lines of men. "Drink water," they repeated. "Are you feeling OK'" they asked. They were the two Soldiers charged with ensuring that each man stayed hydrated and returned safely to base. As usual, they were the mission's only dedicated medical personnel.
Spcs. Vanessa Bolognese and Aimee Collver, combat medics with Personal Security Detachment, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, kept all their male counterparts healthy "outside the wire" that day in Amerli just as they do every day in the Kirkuk Province, Iraq. Neither is doing exactly what she thought she'd be doing in the Army, but neither would trade her job for another.
"Before I enlisted, I was going to school to become a registered nurse," said Spc. Bolognese. "I wanted a medical job and my military occupational specialty is called 'health care specialist,'" said the 21 year-old from Chino Hills, Calif. "In fact, the first time I heard the term 'combat medic' was during [advanced individual training] at Fort Sam Houston. They pretty much told us there, 'You will be deploying. You will be working in Iraq.'" Spc. Bolognese's colleague and roommate had similar motivations.
"I'd been working in a nursing home after high school," said Spc. Collver. "When I walked into the recruiter's office I knew that I wanted a medical job," explained the 23 year-old from Puyallup, Wash. "The health care specialist job was available, and I was told that I would be working in a hospital setting," she said. "Of course, I don't work in a hospital and nothing out here in Iraq is anything like what I thought."
What each combat medic is doing in Irag is working as the designated medical asset to the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's Personal Security Detachment. The PSD's primary mission is to transport certain members of the brigade's command group around the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's area of operation. The PSD also provides personal security for the command group to and from their various destinations and while on site, according to Staff Sgt. Jeremy Brandon, noncommissioned officer-in-charge, PSD.
Staff Sgt. Brandon is serving his third combat deployment. He's charged with supervising both Spcs. Bolognese and Collver and explained why each Soldier is vital to mission success.
"We often conduct operations as an independent element," explained Staff Sgt. Brandon. "For that reason, we need to have our own dedicated medical support. Spcs. Bolognese and Collver are that support. We always have one of them with us wherever we go," he said. And Staff Sgt. Brandon couldn't be happier with their performance.
"Both Soldiers are everything that one could ask for in a medic," he continued. "They have done an outstanding job staying on top of their skills. They've constantly taken it upon themselves to retrain and stay certified, and have done an excellent job both outside the wire and back here on the forward operating base by taking the initiative to give us various medical classes."
Staff Sgt. Brandon's PSD Soldiers agreed.
"We all respect them for their abilities as medics and as Soldiers," said Sgt. Brian Tabor, squad leader, PSD, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Sgt. Tabor is a five-year veteran serving his second combat deployment. "We haven't had any issues because they're female," he emphasized. "Bottom line: They've been a valuable asset to the PSD and it's been a good thing having them with us."
As for Spcs. Bolognese and Collver, even though neither is working in the comfortable confines of a hospital, each loves her job and wouldn't choose to do anything else.
"Of course, the job is mentally challenging because of the unknown anytime you leave the 'wire,'" said Spc. Collver. "But I love being with this group because there's so much camaraderie. I take a lot of pride in knowing that they're well taken care of because I'm there for them," she said.
"Their well-being depends on me when I'm with them," echoed Spc. Bolognese. "In that sense, it's wonderful to know that when I look back at my deployment I can say that I did go out there every day and risk my life to take care of other Soldiers," she said. "That's a lot more than most people can say."