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Battalion Surgeon Chooses Iraq Duty 'to Learn About Joe'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2006 – As you enter the infirmary at the austere base here, there's a sign that reads, "No diamond stops shining at this station."

It's a motto that Army Dr. (Capt.) John Rumbaugh and his six medics live by.

Rumbaugh is the battalion surgeon for Task Force 1-36. Centered around the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, the unit is responsible for maintaining security in this western Euphrates River Valley city. The doctor is responsible for the health of not only the Americans in the unit, but also Iraqi army personnel stationed at the firm base as well as detainees.

Rumbaugh was stationed in Mons, Belgium, and fought to get the assignment. "You can learn a lot about 'Joe' out here," he said referring to American soldiers. "And I wanted to learn."

A family practitioner, Rumbaugh got a gory wake-up call to life as a battalion surgeon. He was one of the first soldiers to arrive as part of the relief in place. He was working with his Marine compatriots when a Marine unit struck an improvised explosive device.

"Suddenly, the guy who is used to delivering babies is confronting some serious trauma," he said. "I remember thinking that I better be prepared for this."

He said it is one thing to think about clamping femoral arteries when assigned in the rear echelon. "It is something else when there is blood splattering all over," he said.

The doctor also worries about disease and heat injuries. He saw a soldier walk past him and called him over. "How are you feeling?" he asked the young man. "Why don't you come by the station and I can hook you up for some fluids."

The young soldier had returned from a patrol severely dehydrated. "It's so hot, and they carry so much gear that it is almost impossible to drink enough," Rumbaugh said. "And it's not like you can take a break when you are on patrol through a neighborhood here."

The doctor also watches the psychological health of his charges. Some of the soldiers are on their second yearlong tour in Iraq. "We have one soldier here who has been IED'd five times," he said. "I make sure these soldiers know they can talk to me at any time."

At that moment, a medic popped his head in the doorway. "Iraqi sick call, sir," he said.

Rumbaugh stood and walked to the door. "It's tough work here," he said. "But I wouldn't miss working with these Joes for anything. They do everything we ask them to, and we have a responsibility back to them."

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