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Sobering moment while awaiting for deployment

FORT RILEY, Kan.—As I stand in a supply room for a battle tank unit bound for war in Iraq, something in the paperwork on a table in front of me catches my eye.

It's a long card with my name, Social Security number, the letters "civ" for civilian and the name of the unit I will ride with as a reporter. It has a diagram of a body, for locating an injury or wound. Near the diagram is a list a medic would check, noting such things as whether a tourniquet or morphine was used. It also contains three boxes: one marked "returned to duty," another marked "evacuated" and the final one, which says "deceased."

On the table, I see identical cards for every soldier in the platoon that will transport me.

Looking at the cards is the most sobering moment I have had since I learned weeks ago that I would be "embedded" as a journalist with the 1st Battalion, 13th Armor, of the 1st Infantry Division.

The official name of the card is the U.S. Field Medical Card. But soldiers call it a toe tag. The card has two thin strands of copper-colored wire for attaching to a soldier. The cards are important because they let medical personnel know the previous treatment of each patient.

I watch a group of sergeants place each card in a zippered plastic bag. The bag goes in the webbing inside every combat helmet. Many of the soldiers have never had to carry one before.

As I ask the sergeants questions about the card, one of them, Sgt. David Garvie, who will drive the armored personnel carrier I will ride in, replies: "This is for when you get shot."

I ask Spc. Issac Westbrook, a 24-year-old tank driver from Lakeside, Ariz., what he thinks of the card. "It doesn't do anything to my mind," he says.

"Maybe it will register a little more reality when I get there."


(Potter reports for The Wichita Eagle.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.