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Guarding enemy injured an `eye-opener' for Navy petty officer

NAME: Russell Green

AGE: 37

HOMETOWN: Ritter, S.C.

RANK: Petty officer first class


ROLE: Guarding enemy prisoners of war at Fleet Hospital No. 3


CAMP VIPER, southern Iraq—Petty Officer 1st Class Russell Green sits at the door in an aluminum chair, armed with a 9 mm pistol, keeping an eye on a group of Iraqi soldiers who are enemy prisoners of war.

The Iraqis wear blue hospital gowns and plastic handcuffs. They sleep in beds in an air-conditioned tent, filling up an entire ward at Fleet Hospital No. 3, a U.S. Navy hospital in southern Iraq.

"One guy must have stepped on a land mine," Green says. "His foot was split to where you could see the bone. I'm not a corpsman, and I haven't worked on this side of the military, and it's an eye opener. It's like, Wow. I kinda feel sorry for them. You are talking about a human life here, good or bad. I've never seen injuries like that before."

Green, 37, of Ritter, S.C., works a 12-hour shift every day. "My job is normally going out to sea," Green says. "Coming into the desert is nothing I've ever had to do before. I usually ride ships."

Most of the Iraqis are quiet; guards don't let them speak Arabic for fear that they could plan an attack on a doctor or nurse.

"We haven't had any problems," Green says. "No agitation. No nothing. This group we have, I hope they are all like this. As far as food and medical care, it's probably better than they've ever gotten. It's not the best food in the world, but it's probably better than they are used to. They are definitely getting first-class medical attention."

When an ambulance arrives at the hospital, someone from security has to search the Iraqis and put handcuffs on them before a doctor or nurse can treat them. "Some come in wearing military outfits," Green says.

Most of the time, an investigator immediately speaks to the prisoners of war to determine if they are civilians or soldiers.

"If you got a guy who is well fed, hair cut, nice trimmed moustache, you know he's Republican Guard," Green says.

Regular Iraqi soldiers wear raggedy clothes and are usually skinny and famished. "One guy said, `If I didn't join, they would kill my family,' " Green says.

Security has to escort an enemy prisoner of war throughout the hospital. Most of the time, the prisoners say they don't understand English. "But they do," Green says.

The hospital was built in less than a week. Most of the first patients were enemy prisoners of war. "It was boring," Green says. "They were knocked out, but now the ward is full, and they are more conscious and more alert. At first, we watched every little thing because we didn't know what to expect. Now, it's interesting. Every day, I see how they are getting better. People who weren't sitting up are now sitting up. One guy was washing his face. Another guy was combing his hair."

Green stands 5 feet 9 and weighs 180 pounds, about 20 less than when he arrived in Iraq. "All the diets I tried back home weren't working," he says with a smile. "So I decided, I'll try the desert diet."

Green and his wife, Karen, have been married for 17 years and have two children.

After 19 years in the Navy, Green plans to retire next year.

"Most of the time, I'm a ship serviceman, who runs the ship store, barbershop and laundry," he says. "When I retire, I'll probably go into retail sales."


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

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): IRAQFACES+GREEN