How one U.S. soldier in Iraq spent the last day of 2010.

Notes from different corners of the world.
Jan. 1 2011 11:27 AM

All Is Calm: New Year's Eve in Baghdad

How one U.S. soldier in Iraq spent the last day of 2010.

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The clinic where he was working was much like the one on this deployment, a Level 2 trauma facility. That means they have X-ray and lab technicians, equipment for dental exams, and a small number of "beds" to treat the wounded. But the clinics are used mostly to stabilize patients before transferring them to a combat support hospital, or CASH. Strand is the evacuation coordinator responsible for doing that.

"We don't even have any blood here," noted Staff Sgt. Brian Hayden, 37, an Army lab technician who is also on his second deployment to Iraq. He works at the Ortiz clinic with Strand. "I think we've had one shrapnel wound in the six months we've been here this time," he said.

On New Year's Eve, because it was slow, Strand took me on a drive through the Green Zone, now officially called the International Zone, or IZ. We old-timers still call it the Green Zone. We went through a series of checkpoints, showing our special badges at each one. Our destination was a private Iraqi hospital that used to be a combat-support hospital. Strand did a one-month trauma rotation at this hospital in 2007, earning himself a prized "Baghdad ER" T-shirt. He recalled chaotic days with patients in litters stacked up and waiting to be treated or evacuated, filling the Army choppers with troops wounded from devastating IED attacks or roll-overs.

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He lost patients. This is war. Not everybody goes home to spend the next holiday with their families, and Strand said he puts up a tough front for "my guys."

"But inside it hits me," he said. "I got into the field to do the best I can do. The ones that make it out, they make it out. You always want to see a win."

As a medic, getting that kind of experience in treating combat wounds was invaluable, he said. It's not that he wants anyone to come in wounded. It's not that. It's just that he's a medic, and this is his job, to help people.

"It's been very quiet," he said. "It's definitely a change from the last time I was here. A lot of the new medics, they don't have to go through what we went through. It has calmed down a lot. It's died down."

Strand's grandfather and stepfather, the man he calls his dad, were both Marines. His other grandfather was in the Navy. Strand considers himself a military man, which is why he wasn't even registering that this was a holiday.

FOB Prosperity was hosting a New Year's Eve party at the dining facility, minus the booze, of course. Soldiers were invited to come dressed up or not, however they pleased. It's a dining facility, after all. Grilled cheese and fries by day, nonalcoholic beer by night. The New Year's Day 5K was postponed for security reasons, however.

The most Strand would offer by way of a New Year's contemplation was this: "I don't want to be sitting as a 60-year-old man on my front porch thinking what I could have done," he said. "I'm proud to wear the uniform. It's been a very good year. I'm happy. I'm healthy. I've got a lot of options, a lot of things ahead of me. Any time you have a great job, doing what you love, with people who support you, that's a measure of a great life.

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Jackie Spinner is a journalist based in the Middle East. She was a staff writer for the Washington Post for 14 years and covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is the author of Tell Them I Didn't Cry: A Young Journalist's Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq.

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