• BASRAH, Iraq - Staff Sgt. Luis Vegamaldonado, a medic with the 36th Infantry Division, gets a temperature reading on Sgt. Juan Arriaga, an infantryman also with the 36th Inf. Div. Vegamaldonado, of Round Rock, Texas, performed the checkup on Arriaga to he was able to return to duty after having the flu.

    Maintaining Soldiers' Health, both Body and Mind

    BASRAH, Iraq - Staff Sgt. Luis Vegamaldonado, a medic with the 36th Infantry Division, gets a temperature reading on Sgt. Juan Arriaga, an infantryman also with the 36th Inf. Div. Vegamaldonado, of Round Rock, Texas, performed the checkup on Arriaga to...

  • Staff Sgt. Luis Vegamaldonado, a medic with the 36th Infantry Division and resident of Round Rock, Texas, performs a check-up on Sgt. Juan Arriaga, an infantryman also with the 36th Inf. Div.

    Maintaining Soldiers' Health, both Body and Mind

    Staff Sgt. Luis Vegamaldonado, a medic with the 36th Infantry Division and resident of Round Rock, Texas, performs a check-up on Sgt. Juan Arriaga, an infantryman also with the 36th Inf. Div.

BASRAH, Iraq - The list is daunting. It includes some very sensitive and private subjects: suicide, marital distress, the emotional turmoil that comes with taking another's life--or seeing the life of a fellow Soldier violently taken away.

Other items on the list are less intimidating, to include practical things a Soldier takes for granted: the bed he sleeps in, the shower trailer she goes to, the food at the dining facility, the stacks of bottled water easily accessible all over the base, and the weights at the gym used to keep a "fighting figure."

And all these are just the tip of the iceberg of what the members of U.S. Division-South Medical do to take care of the nearly 9,000 Soldiers and service members serving in southern Iraq for Operation New Dawn.

U.S. Div.-South medical is comprised of the 36th Infantry Division Surgeon Section (DSS), the division Special Troops Battalion Aid Station, and the subordinate surgeon cells from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and 3rd/1st Cavalry Division. This medical team is responsible for the physical, mental and emotional health of all U.S. military forces stationed in the nine southern provinces of Iraq, according to Col. Gina D. Seiler, division surgeon.

"Our main job is to keep Soldiers healthy," said Seiler, a resident of Marion, Texas. "The Division Surgeon Section is administrative with surgical capabilities belonging to Task Force Med, an Echelon Above Division (EAD) medical asset. What we bring to the table is force health protection; we do a lot with preventive medicine, such as immunizations, quality assurance of food and water, psychiatric consultations and, most importantly, the DSS develops the Concept of Health Service Support for U.S. Div.-South."

Other duties of the DSS include advising the commanding general on the health status of the command, tracking medical evacuations, identifying potential medical hazards, advising the command of health effects caused by the environment, and advising on potential medical threats. The U.S. Div.-South medical team works together to provide a unity of effort when it comes to keeping Soldiers healthy, said Seiler. "When a vulnerability is found, we collaborate on ways to correct the problem."

Some of the areas of medical concern to U.S. Div.-South medical include the quality of food, water and sanitation; immunizations; behavioral health; the resiliency centers; and the distribution management and documentation of Class VIII medical supplies.

When it comes to quality assurance, the division looks to its environmental science officer, Capt. Wayne A. Douet.

"I identify anything that could be a threat to Soldiers and mitigate it. It could be the food, water, soil, air - in the buildings we work in, sleep in and play in," said Douet, who has a master's degree in food and agricultural science and served for four years as an enlisted Army food inspector. "I have two equivalents, one at each of the brigades, and I assist them with supplies, reinforcements, information and anything else they need. Our ultimate goal is to make sure they have whatever they need so they can do their job."

As an ESO, Douet is responsible for ensuring U.S. Div.-South is in compliance with environmental and hazardous material regulations and inspecting the dining facilities for proper food, water and sanitation procedures. The St. Catherine, Jamaica, native also monitors possible health threats that may develop in any other building used by U.S. Div.-South personnel and assists veterinarians in controlling the feral animal population.

"Twenty-five percent of all captured animals tested positive for rabies in 2010, and you can get rabies from being scratched by a feral animal, bit, or even just coming into contact with an infected animal's saliva," said Douet, who now resides in Killeen, Texas. "When the veterinarians are not available to take care of captured animals, we can put together a team trained by the vets to take care of them."

While most immunizations are completed prior to deployment, some, such as the anthrax series, are long-term and still need to be tracked, Callis added. He also provides counseling and preventive medicines for Soldiers going on rest and recuperation leave to countries with a high prevalence of diseases such as malaria.

The DSS also has a behavioral health team, which consists of the division psychiatrist, Maj. Michael Gummow, and the behavioral health officer, Maj. Jill Bruno. The behavioral health officer is not part of the division modification table of organization and equipment; however, Seiler opted to utilize a plans position in order to bring Bruno on board to provide stability as a psychiatrist typically rotates in and out every 90 days, and to provide continuity for the division Soldiers when they redeploy. The goal is to ensure that Soldiers who do have behavioral health issues are case-managed upon return and assisted in getting into the VA, according to Seiler.

The role of the behavioral health team is to provide consultative services and oversight to U.S. Div.-South providers. "We don't do treatments, since that is actually done at the Combat Stress Center and is run by an EAD," said Bruno, who holds a master's in social work and is also a psychiatric nurse. "We ensure proper training is conducted; make sure enough Soldiers are trained in applied suicide intervention skills training (ASIST), and we train unit behavioral health advocates (UBHA)."

The UBHAs are Soldiers, from all unit levels, trained to recognize behavioral health issues among their peers and to make appropriate referrals, added the Marquette, Michigan native.

"We're here to assist. We can't force a Soldier to get treatment, but we can help them get it," Bruno said. "I want to encourage Soldiers to be 'resilient.' Maintain the five pillars."

The five pillars mentioned by Bruno are Physical, Emotional, Family, Social and Spiritual fitness. Together they form the foundation of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program. The Army began the program in 2008 to assist Soldiers, Family members and Army Civilians in maximizing their potential to face the physical and psychological challenges of sustained operations. "Resiliency is a person's ability to bounce back from adversity and stress. The stronger a Soldier is in the five pillars, the more resilient he or she is," stated Master Sgt. Lotta Smagula, the chief medical noncommissioned officer for U.S. Div.-South.

"The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is just that - a fitness program, not a treatment program," said Smagula, a resident of Austin, Texas. "This program is designed for all people to get stronger, not just those who need help."
The U.S. Div.-South resiliency campuses demonstrate the Army's commitment to Comprehensive Soldier Fitness and provide an integrated approach to Resilience that builds and sustains every aspect of individual strength. U.S. Div.-South currently has three resiliency campuses; the Iron Strong Resiliency Campus on Contingency Operating Base Adder, the Rifle Strong Resiliency Campus, just opened at Contingency Operating Site Kalsu, and the Lone Star Resiliency Campus on COB Basra, according to Staff Sgt. Amy Richardson, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Lone Star Campus.

"The campus here has rooms for each of the pillars," said Richardson, a medic from Starbridge, Mass., who now resides in Edna, Texas. "There's something for everyone to help relieve stress. Some people may go to the gym, others may come use the massage chairs for twenty minutes during lunch; others sit and read or they may just want to get on a computer to 'Skype' with their family. If a Soldier's feeling overwhelmed, they can just come in and use the facility."

While the list of responsibilities is long, and U.S. Div.-South Medical can seem like a daunting juggernaut, the Texas Soldiers and subordinate brigade surgeon cells are more than capable of handling any situation, said Seiler.

"I have nothing but the best working for me here," Seiler said. "I have the utmost confidence that no matter what occurs in our area of operations, my team will be able to take care of what needs to be done for our Soldiers."

Page last updated Tue May 3rd, 2011 at 08:09