144th Area Support Medical Company

Goes Above and Beyond

 the Call for Fallen Soldier

 

Compiled by Maj. Hank McIntire

Published May 15, 2006

 

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Members of the 144th Area Support Medical Company who assisted with a fallen Soldier May 6 at Camp Echo, Iraq. Front row, left to right, Spc. Andrew Hill, Sgt. David Grant, Spc. Kristin Nelson, 1st Lt. Charity Coe. Back row, left to right, Spc. Brett Whicker, Staff Sgt. Tim Stillman, and 2nd Lt. Tambra Puro.

Photo by Spc. Michael Murley

Members of the 144th Area Support Medical Company who assisted with a fallen

Soldier May 6 at Camp Echo, Iraq. Front row, left to right, Spc. Andrew Hill,

Sgt. David Grant, Spc. Kristin Nelson, 1st Lt. Charity Coe. Back row, left to right,

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 6.

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 point-of-injury mission.

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 base.

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 last respects.”

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,” Morrissey added. 

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.”