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Nurse Shares Iraq Experience

  • Published
  • By Leader-Courier, Elk Point, SD
Kym Hummel of rural Jefferson shared her experiences and pictures of her tour of duty in Iraq earlier this year with veterans and their guests at a Veterans Day coffee Monday, November 12, at the American Legion Auxiliary Room in Elk Point.

Hummel is a nurse and a major with the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa National Guard in Sioux City. She served at a hospital near the Baghdad Airport from may to July of this year. She was assigned to the 447th Air Expeditionary Wing at Sather Air Force Base which was at Victory Base Camp. The camp is made up of several U.S., Coalition and Iraqi military facilities which encircle the airport about seven miles from the "Green Zone" downtown.

"We were right on the airstrip so we were in control of everything that went in and out of Baghdad via air," she said.

She was Chief Nurse of a hospital that had seven surgeons, four nurses, eight medics and support staff. Their duty was to take care of the medical needs of the people assigned to the facility and any injured people brought to the area. The hospital was a small facility, with four emergency and three intensive-care beds.

Their area around the airport was under mortar attack at least twice during her stay in Iraq; the facility treated the wounded from those incidents.

Anyone with serious injuries was airlifted within a few minutes to other hospitals. Patients with broken bones or sprains or who had gall bladder or appendix surgeries usually recuperated in their own quarters after a short stay.

"Most of the people we saw were orthopedic injuries - sports injuries, hernias, gall bladders, appendixes - not a lot of battlefield injuries," she noted. "We did take care of Iraqi military people, we took care of some high dignitary people, Iraqi people that OSI brought to us. A lot of people come through that base."

Among the people Hummel saw at the base in a non-medical capacity were country singer Toby Keith and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Hummel didn't get the chance to see much of the Iraqi capital, staying inside the safety of the base for the duration of her tour.

Most medical personnel served a four-month tour before going back to the United States, since longer tours would disrupt medical care back home.

Many of the medical support staff slept in tents, but Hummel stayed in the hospital itself.

"My office was where I lived," she noted. "Right there - didn't get too far from work."

She said it is important to note that the base where was in was totally supported by Air National Guard personnel from all over the United State. She said it's not just Army and active duty Air Force that are over there.

She said all of the military personnel serving in Iraq that she has encountered feel they are making a difference in the country. She said what people see in the media over here is not what's going on over there. She said a Navy Seal under her care said a Humvee driving through an empty tent became a tank driving through a crowded tent in the media.

Her trip to Iraq wasn't her first trip to the Middle East. She spent part of 2001 serving in Saudi Arabia and 2003 in the Persian Gulf country of Qatar. She has also spent time at Ramstein in Germany and has done humanitarian duty in Honduras and during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Bay St. Louis, MS. Her next planned trip is in 2009 to Puerto Rico. The National Guard allows tours one ever 18 months, so as not to disrupt family life too much. Hummel is an RN who works nights at the Siouxland Surgery Center in Dakota Dunes.

"About a month and a half after I got back home, I got an e-mail that said there was a shortfall in Iraq, would you want to go back?" Hummel recalled. "I e-mailed back, 'In a heartbeat.' I would go back in a heartbeat. I have trained for 23 years to do what I have done. If I could make a difference in one serviceman's life, or one person's life, that would make my job complete."

Hummel also showed a video about the 185th Air National Guard's recent missions and read a speech which told of the exploits of several Medal of Honor recipients and everyday soldiers helping Afghanistan residents plant corn and have shoes and warm clothing for winter.

She urged veterans to seek out friends, family and the media to tell the stories of their service experiences so that the next generation can know the sacrifices they made.

VFW Post 915 Commander Thomas Hummel told the audience to remember Justin Keegan. Keegan, a 2005 graduate of Elk Point-Jefferson High School, was serving in the Air Force when he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He is currently undergoing treatment in Washington, D.C.

About 30 people attended the coffee, which is sponsored annually by the auxiliaries to VFW Post 915 and American Legion Post 134.