Photo by Spc. Michael
Members of the 144th
Area Support Medical Company who assisted with a
Soldier May 6 at Camp
Echo, Iraq. Front row, left to right, Spc. Andrew
Sgt. David Grant, Spc.
Kristin Nelson, 1st Lt. Charity Coe. Back row, left
Spc. Brett Whicker,
Staff Sgt. Tim Stillman, and 2nd Lt. Tambra Puro.
Compiled from written
accounts by Maj. Paul Morrissey, Capt. Robert Dent, 1st Lt.
Charity Coe, 2nd Lt. Tambra Puro, Staff Sgt. Tim
Stillman, Sgt. David Grant and Spc. Andrew Hill.
CAMP ECHO, Iraq — Stepping outside their comfort zone at
Camp Echo, Iraq, Soldiers of the 144th Area
Support Medical Company went far above and beyond the call
of duty in caring for a fallen Soldier and his comrades May
A routine day of seeing sick-call patients, training
Coalition forces in first aid procedures and a little down
time changed quickly when 144th medics received a
call about 3 p.m. notifying them of an urgent POI, or
A few miles away from Camp Echo, U.S. Army forces had
encountered a roadside bomb attack in which
Soldiers were killed or wounded.
A POI requires a MEDEVAC crew to fly by helicopter to the
scene of an incident to transport wounded to Camp Echo’s
Troop Medical Clinic (TMC) for treatment.
Medics were first told that the Soldiers killed in the
incident would be sent to Baghdad to a combat-support
hospital, as is standard procedure, but they should be
prepared to receive the wounded.
Thirty minutes later, however, word came that one of the
U.S. Soldiers killed and his surviving comrades were inbound
to Camp Echo by vehicle convoy.
Immediately, TMC Officer in Charge 2nd Lt. Tambra
Puro notified the MEDEVAC crew to be ready and TMC
Noncommissioned Officer in Charge Staff Sgt. Tim Stillman
identified teams to provide incoming casualties and
accompanying Soldiers with medical treatment, a place to
rest and someone to talk to.
As Physician Assistant 1st Lt. Charity Coe
prepared for the arrival of the wounded, she tried to think
of what would be most helpful for the situation.
“I instinctively did what
my mother would have done: I looked for little things to
make the Soldiers more comfortable,” said Coe. “I found some
cookies sent by my family for Easter and which I had saved
unopened for a rainy day. And others provided additional
drinks and snacks from their own care packages.”
By the time the convoy arrived about 5 p.m., Sgt. David
Grant had converted his unit’s recreation room into a
reception area for the incoming Soldiers to relax, eat
snacks and be debriefed on their mission.
Coe was one of the first to meet the convoy when it arrived
at the clinic.
“We met the convoy commander as he dismounted his
vehicle. I saw pain in his eyes and sadness in the eyes of
his team, but they were still Soldiers. They still moved and
acted with a sense of order,” Coe observed.
Spcs. Andrew Hill and Kristin Nelson accompanied the remains
of the fallen Soldier to the temporary morgue facility while
the Soldier's comrades were led to the recreation room to meet
with Maj. Paul Morrissey, a combat-stress officer from the
1972nd Medical Detachment.
Then Puro and Coe took on the
daunting, unfamiliar task of inventorying the
fallen Soldier’s personal effects and preparing them for
shipment back to his unit and eventually to his family.
“This was probably the hardest part, seeing pictures
of the Soldier’s family, and it finally struck me that this
person had loved ones back at home who were going to be
devastated,” said Puro. “Every ounce of respect, honor, and
patriotism I had pushed me through the night to make sure
this fallen soldier received the proper respect.”
After the meeting with
Morrissey, Hill spoke with medics in the fallen Soldier’s
unit who told him about their comrade and the incident
earlier in the day.
Soldiers asked Hill for
something to take their minds off the day’s events, so with
some technical support from Puro to get the DVD player up
and running, they watched The 40-year-old Virgin.
Hill joined the Soldiers
for the movie and in his conversation with them learned that
three of unit’s Soldiers had boots covered with blood from
the incident. Immediately Hill and two of his colleagues,
Stillman and Grant, offered their own boots to the three
which were gratefully accepted before they departed the
As the 144th
completed its work of preparing the fallen Soldier for
transport, a heavy rain pelted the camp. An uncommon
occurrence in this part of the world, it “seemed as if the
heavens themselves wept with the convoy team,” said Coe,
“but the weather did not deter those who wanted to pay their
Coe continued: “At about
midnight the Soldier’s comrades escorted the vehicle [driven
by Puro] carrying his remains onto the flight line, forming
an honor guard. Our team and a few others from Camp Echo
joined them in rendering a last salute as the fallen Soldier
was placed on the helicopter and draped with a donated
American flag. We saluted for the last time as this soldier
disappeared into the night aboard the MEDEVAC helicopter.”
According to Morrissey,
many members of the fallen Soldier’s unit expressed their
thanks and several commented that they were amazed by the
level of caring [shown by the 144th]. And he
praised Coe and Puro for their leadership in an impromptu
and unfamiliar situation.
“Out of chaos, they made
order. They received the remains of the Soldier with
respect and dignity. They planned ahead, took control,
coordinated a memorial service, transported the remains to
the airfield and sent the Soldier off with a fitting
tribute. It was beautifully done,” said Morrissey.
“This was an enormously
difficult task to put on a couple of lieutenants in the
middle of nowhere by themselves, and they rose to the
occasion and made the Army proud. This was an extraordinary
example of caring for and dedication to fellow Soldiers,”
Commander of the 144th Capt. Robert Dent, also
lauded the Camp Echo team for their extraordinary response
to the challenge.
“Our unit motto is ‘Courage, Commitment, Compassion.’ The
actions at Camp Echo that day represent every one of these.
I couldn’t be prouder of them and what they did. It is an
honor to serve with such great Americans who stand up and go
beyond what is expected of them in a difficult situation.”
From a team member
perspective, Hill reflected the modest approach to
individuals’ own involvement and the support the 144th
as a unit provided to fellow Soldiers.
“I really don’t think that
I did a whole lot,” Hill said. “The guys that did the real
work were the Soldiers in that convoy. If anyone’s story is
worth hearing, it’s theirs.”