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Tuesday, April 22

Medical emergencies, explosions just part of unit's day

By Gina Cavallaro | Military Times

NASIRIYAH, Iraq - The U.S. Marines lifted the badly burned Iraqi woman into the back of a Humvee as her mother cried inconsolably.

The air was hot and thick with dust as the Humvee and security convoy wove through city traffic headed for an Army hospital 16 miles southwest at Talil Air Base.

The 22-year-old woman had been burned over half of her body in a cooking accident. Her husband rode by her side, not letting the corpsmen lift her dress to inspect her wounds.

``She was trying to talk,'' said Navy medical corpsman Luis Castro, who is assigned to a Reserve unit out of Albany, N.Y. ``I knew she had an airway. I knew she was breathing.''

By dark, the woman was in the care of a 101st Airborne Division doctor and a female medical specialist, which seemed to put the husband at ease, and the Fox Company crew was on its way back to its command post in a house at the end of a bridge on the Euphrates River.

For Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, it was the end of a busy day of medical emergencies, suspicious locals with guns, and exploding ordnance.

Fox Company was mobilized for most of 2002, spending the better part of the year at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Personnel went home in December, only to be called up again in January. They've been in the Persian Gulf region since mid-February and in Iraq for about three weeks.

Fox Company troops conduct foot patrols and random vehicle searches and help keep the road and bridge clear for military convoys.

Marines last month saw some of the bloodiest fighting in this war here, an important Euphrates River crossing point on the route to Baghdad. Now barefoot children dart into the street from squalid neighborhoods in this city of almost half a million people to greet the Marines with ear-to-ear smiles.

``We're ambassadors of goodwill,'' said Company Commander Maj. Chris Douglas, 33, a New York state trooper from Saratoga.

The area is still far from safe. Explosions sound off as ordnance disposal teams destroy caches of Iraqi munitions. Gunfire sometimes is heard, too.

On Easter morning, Marines at a checkpoint got a visit from a local resident who wanted to trade in a hand grenade for some food and water.

Later that morning, Marines manning the checkpoint at the north end of the bridge called to report they were detaining five people stopped in a late-model car and found with AK-47 assault rifles. The car, according to 1st Sgt. Joe Angelino, the police chief in Norwich, N.Y., was unusual in a city where beat-up clunkers are the norm.

The Iraqis were detained and later released - minus the weapons - after it was determined they weren't a threat.

In the afternoon, the Marines fired up a Humvee and rushed a lance corporal for emergency medical treatment for dysentery.

Other Marines found five mortar rounds under power lines at one checkpoint and called in an explosive ordnance disposal team to blow them up. When the explosions went off, no one flinched.

Late in the long, hot afternoon, Fox Company Marines raided a home and detained two men. The action was sparked by the discovery earlier in the day of a ``certificate of graduation'' from a training course for Saddam Fedayeen, a paramilitary force of brutal Iraqi regime loyalists. The document had a color picture of Saddam Hussein, some Arabic writing that was translated by the company's interpreter, and a pasted-on photo of the individual the Marines were seeking to detain in the raid.

That man wasn't home when the Marines came calling, but they held two other men for questioning and later released them.

Around the time the call came in about the woman with the burns, a foot patrol reported finding missile loaders on a truck - with three missiles loaded and intact.

``It was a hazard because civilians were stripping the truck,'' said Angelino. The Marines surrounded the vehicle with wire and stood watch to keep locals out of harm's way.

It was an unusually busy day, some Fox Company members conceded, but they didn't complain about the danger and hardships. They said they wouldn't mind, though, if the mail got here a whole lot faster. And, man, what they wouldn't give for some ice.