KIRKUK, Iraq (Army News Service, Oct. 12, 2006) - When Soldiers were injured in previous deployments, they normally rehabilitated away from the combat zone. Soldiers now have another option as physical therapists begin deploying with brigade combat teams.

A two-man physical therapist team deployed with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, in August. Based at Forward Operating Base Warrior near Kirkuk, the team will move throughout northern Iraq to help treat injured brigade Soldiers.

"They (the Soldiers) were really shocked to see a physical therapist deploying with them," said Staff Sgt. Douglas Biala, 3rd BCT, 25th Inf. Div. physician's assistant. "They never even knew about us."

The physical therapist program was previously tested in the Special Forces and Ranger battalions, according to Capt. Zack Solomon, 3rd BCT, 25th Inf. Div., physical therapist. The program was a success, so the Army is implementing it in other units.

"The Army finally got smart and decided to put a physical therapist down to the brigade combat teams," said Solomon, a native of Novato, Calif. "Now we are able to actually impact the Soldiers and get them better."

"Direct access is the thing right now," added Biala, a native of Jacksonville, Fla. "We actually treat the injury instead of sending Soldiers away with Motrin and a profile."

Chaplin (Capt.) Christopher Degn, 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, has been one of beneficiaries of the deployed physical therapists.

"I was allowed to finish my knee therapy here (rather than back in Hawaii)," Degn said. "I was two-thirds of the way through my rehabilitation when the unit deployed. Using Solomon's walk-to-run program, I am back to about 80 to 90 percent. Capt. Solomon made it possible for me to deploy with my troops. These guys are lifesavers."

The physical therapists can treat most injuries, the more common being back injuries "caused by wearing protective gear that saves our lives. Unfortunately, it can wear down on your back," Solomon said.

Biala said he anticipates the patient's point of view will change with physical therapists in country.

"Now they can get treated by a physical therapist rather than having to walk around hurting for two weeks while waiting to see a physician's assistant," Biala said.

"We can get them right at the site of the injury and get them moving a lot quicker. It's sports medicine on the battlefield," Solomon added.