When I traveled around Iraq with Command Sergeant Major Jeffrey Mellinger [bio], he regularly went to the hospitals and would visit with every single patient every time. I wrote a dispatch about this, Walking the Line IV. So I wasn’t surprised when I saw him in Baghdad E.R. visiting the wounded soldiers. He seemed to know the names of every staff member and they always seemed to smile upon his arrival. Baghdad E.R. shows something I saw so many times: wounded soldiers who wished to return to combat with their buddies.
It’s important to mention another aspect of the 86th Combat Support Hospital staff that was not in the documentary. They were giving the same compassionate care that our service members receive to Iraqi civilians who are wounded in insurgent attacks. When Iraqi children are injured their parents live at the hospital for as long as it takes. I remember one little girl who was there every time I visited with CSM Mellinger over a three week period. She had been seriously injured in a savage car bomb attack. Our people brought her to our hospital where she could get better care and where her family could stay by her side. By the third week, I recall a doctor saying they expected her to make a full recovery.
I contacted a fantastic man in Texas, Dr. David Gifford, a retired Army Colonel, to see if he had watched Baghdad E.R. I had written about Dr. Gifford in the Books of Salah Al Din describing how he and others quietly sent millions of dollars worth of much-needed medical textbooks to Iraq, where medical schools are taught in English, and where Saddam’s regime had swept the library shelves clean. Dr. Gifford’s reply included an important warning:
No, I didn’t see Baghdad E.R. because we were traveling. Of interest is the fact that the Army Surgeon General put out a letter to the AMEDD forewarning both of the impact of the film on family members AND the potential for causing flashbacks among those who have served in just such an environment. The truth is that almost no one except those who have been in the CSHs of late have experienced such a steady stream of horrors. Certainly the four 18-20 hour stays of activity in my CSH (128th CSH) during the Gulf War resulted in nothing like the sustained stress of dealing with shredded human beings that our medical soldiers now endure. No civilian E.R. can begin to match what our Army medical people have done with such great distinction. Never have so many terribly wounded survived before. Never have we had quite such consequences of such survivals…although my studies of Civil War medicine suggests that there were a now-forgotten immense number of soldiers on both sides who survived with enormously disfiguring injuries.
About ninety percent of our service members who are wounded in action survive their injuries. This is due to our excellent medics, aircrews, and medical staffs. They do indescribable work. Baghdad E.R. is the only show on Iraq that I have seen that not only depicts the true courage and competence of our military people, but also honors them for it, while not blanching from the true horror. Credit to the courage of the members of the 86th CSH, and credit to HBO for going into combat on the streets of Baghdad, and for sticking it out at that hospital and telling the true story. Baghdad E.R. is showing numerous times right up until Memorial Day. [Schedule]