Outstanding medical care during combat earned two Army officers new honors during the Military Health System Conference in Washington, D.C., January 28-31. Lt. Col. Kelly A. Murray received the first Col. Brian Allgood Field Grade Combat Care Award, while Capt. Walter S. Baugh received the first Capt. Maria Ortiz Company Grade Combat Care Award.
Murray is a family practice physician and flight surgeon assigned as the primary-care staff officer at Medical Command Headquarters. Baugh is an emergency-room staff nurse at Fort Benning, Ga., Medical Department Activity.
"It's very humbling. To be mentioned in the same sentence with Brian Allgood is a tremendous honor," Murray said.
Allgood was a West Point graduate, Ranger and orthopedic surgeon who was killed near Diyala, Iraq in January 2007. At the time of his death, he was command surgeon for Multinational Force-Iraq.
Ortiz was an Army nurse who was killed in July 2007 while serving with the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq.
Also introduced at the MHS Conference were the Gen. Leonard Wood Line Leadership Award for all officers (presented to Marine Gen. Robert Magnus) and the Hospitalman Luke Milam Award for enlisted medics (presented to Navy Hospitalman James R. Pell).
Murray participated in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as regimental surgeon for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. During her 15-month tour, she took part in 200 combat missions, including being one of the first health providers responding to the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Iraq on Aug. 19, 2003.
"My unit was about a half mile away. We felt the explosion and thought it was a mortar attack hitting us - that was the force of the explosion," Murray said. The bomb killed 22 people and injured about 150.
"We packed up our trauma gear and went straight over there. It was an unbelievable situation. For the first time I saw what evil really is," she said. "Everyone pulled together. Even though we hadn't worked together everyone seemed to know their part," she said. "Within a couple of hours everyone had been evacuated to care."
Murray said there weren't many war casualties to treat immediately after U.S. forces occupied Baghdad, so she concentrated on rebuilding Iraqi medical capabilities. "We wanted to get the Iraqi health-care system back on its feet. We rehabilitated about 70 clinics and 10 hospitals. We also started several medical education programs," she said.
"In the 1960s they were practicing cutting edge medicine in Iraq. Then came the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein and U.N. sanctions and they were cut off from the world. They were very eager to get back in touch with the outside medical community," she added.
Murray created a medical action committee that met with local medical directors, nongovernmental organizations and Iraqi hospitals in the Al Resafa district of eastern Baghdad. The progress they made led the Iraqi Ministry of Health to recognize Al Resafa as the best primary health care department in Iraq.
While traveling to one of these local meetings, Murray's convoy was attacked with small arms and grenades. She treated an injured officer and took control of the situation, earning a Bronze Star Medal with "V" device for valor.
In 2005 Murray returned to Iraq as chief of professional services for Task Force 30th Medical Brigade. She developed the first expanded theater medical consultant program for Iraq, established a second platelet aphoresis center for blood transfusions, brought in equipment to treat hypothermia and standardized medical equipment in combat support hospitals across Iraq.
"Nothing glamorous, but we facilitated a lot of innovations," she commented.
Baugh was emergency room charge nurse with the 28th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad between July 2006 and July 2007. He provided the first medical care for the namesake of the award, Capt. Maria Ortiz.
"Ortiz was coming back from the gym. We got a large mortar attack. Usually they have three or four and they're done, in this attack close to 48 rounds landed," Baugh said.
"I was walking to the front of the hospital because an Iraqi bus had been hit. They said one of ours had been hit in the street, so I ran back to the ER," he continued. "I took two medics and a Marine liaison on Gators to get out there and get our people out of the street.
A couple of Australian solders were trying to carry Captain Ortiz - we put her on the back of the Gator and I told a medic to take her straight in, because she was the most seriously injured."
Baugh said he treated another nurse who was injured and then brought that patient to the hospital. "At the ER, I got everything moving in the right direction and then I helped Maj. William White, the head nurse, with Captain Ortiz because she was the most critically injured. We got her up to the operating room, where she expired," he said.
Baugh said he flew on 72 critical-care patient transport flights in Iraq, and taught classes to personnel who did not have emergency room experience. "I kind of fell into the role of assistant head nurse," he said. "I had been enlisted -- I have 17 years in -- so I became a bridge between the enlisted and officers. They came to me with problems and questions because everyone wants to avoid the head nurse."
Murray and Baugh agreed on a couple of points: nothing truly prepares a medic for combat casualties and combat focuses the medics on patient care rather than paperwork. "Until you're there you can't really grasp what you're going to see over there. You don't understand how bad the blast injuries are," Baugh said.
"Everything over there is about taking care of each other. Here in the States you might get caught up in other things, but when you're deployed you don't lose sight of that. You don't mind going the extra mile," Murray said.
Murray said her advice to medical leaders preparing for combat duty is to "mentor your medics and drill so you can act as a team." "I made sure we continually practiced medical battle drills, so when bullets are flying and things are exploding around you, you react without thinking," she said.
"Take care of your Soldiers and they will take care of you. Everything else will fall into place," she added.
Baugh, 37, served 14 years as a medic, then attended nursing school at West Virginia Mountain State College of Nursing and was commissioned in 2005. "As a medic, I didn't realize how much responsibility you have to take on as an officer. They expect you to be a lot more professional," he said.
Murray, 42, is a graduate of Drake University and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. She said she was led to military service because she "looked up" to a big brother who was in uniform.
"I did ROTC and really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun. There aren't too many jobs where you get paid to jump out of airplanes and have fun," she said. Murray is Airborne and Air Assault qualified.
"I wouldn't change the experience, although there have been some challenging times," she said. "The friends you make - the sense of family - I don't know any other job you can get that."