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Repair Technician Enjoys Duty Rigors

By Staff Sgt. Merrion LaSonde, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP RUSTAMIYAH, Baghdad, Iraq, Feb. 23, 2005 – Being wounded in action is a fear of most deployed soldiers. However, there is a danger out there that many soldiers forget about the rigors of everyday life. Life-threatening emergencies like heart attacks or strokes don't stop in a combat zone.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Spc. Bryan King, a medical equipment specialist with Echo Company, 115th Forward Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, trouble-shoots a suction apparatus that doctors use to clear excess fluids away from the site of a wound. Photo by Staff Sgt. Merrion LaSonde, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

And both the medical personnel and the servicemembers they treat must trust the medical equipment the hospital is using. Army Spc. Bryan King agrees.

The 26-year-old medical equipment specialist with Echo Company, 115th Forward Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, said he takes his job very seriously.

"You have to take it seriously, because whether or not a machine works could mean someone's life," King explained. "It is more than taking pride in a job well done. I remember a time at the hospital in Heidelberg (Germany) working in the (emergency room) when a lady came in with a heart attack and they called me in to record what was going on. I knew the EKG monitor worked fine, because I had just repaired it."

King received his training at the Biomedical Equipment Technician School, a multiservice school located on Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. He said his specialty only numbers about 500.

After completing the 11-and-a-half-month-long course, King applied the skills of his new trade at his first duty station in Heidelberg.

King's next tour brought him to the "Cav," which in turn brought his much-needed expertise to Iraq. "I was the first 91A they had in this brigade," said King. "They weren't sure what to do with me at first so I had to build my shop from the ground up. After everyone realized what I did, things really smoothed out."

Responsible for all the medical equipment in the 1st BCT's area of operations, King travels between the brigade's three forward operating bases trouble-shooting and repairing equipment as needed.

King said he's responsible for about 12 pieces of equipment. "I travel out to the other clinics to maintain all the equipment. We have X-ray machines, the digital X-ray processor, echocardiogram machine, dental compressors, defibrillators, bioscience monitors and ventilators," he said.

King explained that while being a one-man shop affords him the freedom to perform his mission, it has the disadvantage of keeping him running all day.

"This job can keep you busy if you let it get out of control," explained King. "If you let your scheduled services slack off, then you end up having a lot of repairs to do. Repairs are what take up most of your time because you have to figure out what's wrong.

He said his hospital assignment gave him much-appreciated "experience on various pieces of equipment, which helped me on my own here."

"I love my job. It has a tendency to remind you not to get too arrogant. You can work on the same piece of equipment 10 different times and still find a problem you never would have guessed. I like that about my job. It keeps challenging me. And there is enough variety in the equipment that it doesn't get monotonous," he said.

King's love of math, his job and all things electronic aided him in helping the Iraqi Ministry of Health repair many pieces of vital medical equipment, in addition to his own responsibilities.

"A lot of the Iraqi equipment we fell in on had been taken apart and was dirty, but some of it was still in good shape," said King. "There was a huge variety of it from the stand-up microscopes they use in operating rooms to small pieces of lab equipment like a centrifuge. I spent most of my time trying to identify what it was and who made it. Then I tried to get a general idea of what was wrong with it. There is only so much you can do without a manual and I did not have those manuals.

"I repaired everything I could," he said. "On some of the more complex pieces of equipment, I can't just open it up and look at the circuit board."

With a little help from his friends, King cleaned and repaired about 30 pieces of local equipment. "Now we have a Conex (container) full of equipment, about 55 pieces in all, that is ready for the Ministry of Health to pick up," said King. "The pieces that are working can be shipped out to the places that need it. The ministry has technicians with the manuals and the ability to order parts for the pieces that still need some work. They will be able to fix them faster than I can."

Deployed here since March 2004, King will soon be returning to Fort Hood, Texas, and his family, but he feels his time in Iraq has been well spent.

"My time in Iraq has been a learning experience," said King. "I just take everything as it comes and try and make the best of it."

(Army Staff Sgt. Merrion LaSonde is assigned to the 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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