- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2001

CAMP RISSINGTON, Texas, Sept. 30 (UPI) — This dusty field, filled with cactus and mesquite, is nothing at all like mountainous, windswept Afghanistan, but for about 2,000 men and women of the 59th Air Force Medical Wing, it might be all the training they get before they're ordered to ship out for duty, patching up the casualties of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"Our goal in this training is to give these folks the confidence that they can perform in realistic and stressful environments," says Col. Douglas Robb, commander of the Aeromedical and Dental Group at Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

He points out that all of the members of the wing are experienced medical professionals, ranging from physicians and dentists to psychologists, social workers, field medics, and stretcher-bearers. But most have never served in war, and all need specialized training for the conditions they might face in the field.

"You learn how to practice medicine at night, you learn how to practice medicine in chemical gear, including gas masks, you learn how to practice medicine when you're under attack," Robb says.

One drill that stretcher bearers are perfecting here is switching from a "four-man carry" to a "two-man carry" so they can transport the wounded through narrow mountain passes.

Robb says some of the members of this unit were dispatched to Saudi Arabia to deal with those wounded when the Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia was attacked, in an incident also allegedly masterminded by Osama bin Laden, in 1997. Others have training dealing with civilian emergencies, including flooding in Houston earlier this year. But all realize that this mission will be different.

"All these folks are trying to volunteer, even to sneak ahead in line so they can go because they want to be where the action is," Robb says. "That's awesome to see."

Maj. Sharon Bailey has already been at the center of the action in Operation Enduring Freedom. A social worker and counselor with the 59th, she just returned from New York, where she was helping children deal with the World Trade Center attacks, and from Dover, Del., where she counseled the medical personnel trying to identify mangled corpses at the nation's military morgue.

"We prepare people psychologically to go in and see blood, guts, and gore," she said, adding that she's ready to ship out again.

"It's important to prepare these people for what they might see," she says. "We need to prepare them for the sights, the sounds, and the smells. If it's too horrific and they're not prepared for it, they'll just shut down."

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