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DoD Health Chief Lauds Wartime Military Medical Support

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2003 – The Pentagon's top civilian medical official praised military doctors, nurses, medics and other health care professionals for their "superb job" in Operation Iraqi Freedom during a roundtable with Pentagon reporters April 29.

DoD medical personnel inside and outside the theater of operations were busy "saving lives and helping people to recover from serious wounds and injuries and illnesses" incurred during the conflict, said Dr. William Winkenwerder, Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Winkenwerder noted that he'd visited with wounded troops being cared for at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here two weeks ago, and would soon talk to service members convalescing at the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md.

During such visits Winkenwerder said he queries service members about the quality of their medical care, adding they invariably reply, "It's been great."

DoD's medical people "were well-prepared" for Operation Iraqi Freedom, Winkenwerder explained, to include possible enemy deployment of weapons of mass destruction, which didn't occur.

"We believe we had the right kinds and amounts of (medical) assets in theater" to treat battlefield wounds and injuries, he remarked. He noted that more than 500 troops were treated for wounds, injuries or illnesses during the conflict.

More than 100 U.S. troops were killed in action during the three-week war, Winkenwerder said. However, he pointed out, many service members' lives were saved by having surgical teams deployed close to the fighting.

Lives were also saved, Winkenwerder continued, through use of the new "fibrin" field bandage. This bandage, he noted, contains an enzyme that causes the patient's blood to clot, thereby slowing bleeding. Military medical officials cite severe blood loss as the No. 1 cause of battlefield deaths.

Winkenwerder pointed out that U.S. military health care professionals also treated many Iraqi civilians and enemy prisoners of war at field facilities and aboard U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort, which was deployed in the Arabian Sea. The vessel, with 1,000 beds, deployed to the Persian Gulf region in support of the Iraq war.

U.S. military medical facilities in theater, he noted, reached 50-percent patient capacity during the height of the fighting in Iraq.

Winkenwerder said DoD health officials would gather sometime this summer to discuss medical lessons learned from the war.

"Although we believe our folks did a great job, there's always an opportunity to get better," he concluded.

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