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Corpsman works hard to keep up with her patients

NAME: Jody Stenquist

RANK: Petty officer first class

AGE: 29

HOMETOWN: Pontiac, Mich.


JOB: Corpsman at Fleet Hospital Number 3 in southern Iraq.


CAMP VIPER, southern Iraq—Petty Officer 1st Class Jody Stenquist says the doctors are working magic.

"It's amazing what they are doing with the limited supplies we have," says Stenquist, a 29-year-old corpsman at Fleet Hospital Number 3 in southern Iraq. "We aren't getting one or two patients at a time. We are getting five, six or seven at a time."

This is the first time a fleet hospital has been set up in enemy territory, and on this recent day the troops are still working through some of the bugs.

"We don't have the normal things you would have," says Stenquist, of Pontiac, Mich.

"We don't have Band-Aids. We are using gauze and things like that. I guess they didn't come. We still have containers with gear in it that haven't been opened yet. Some of our equipment is 20 years old. We didn't know how to work the suction machines. We are cutting tubing off other things to connect to suction machines."

Despite the obstacles of setting up a hospital in the desert, they have made it work. Last week, two ambulances rolled up, unannounced, with seven patients.

"We had no idea they were coming," Stenquist says.

The American service members were hurt in a motor vehicle accident; their injuries included a broken femur, a broken back and head trauma.

"We were pretty excited to talk to them to see how the war was going, to find out where they were," Stenquist says.

This is the first time Stenquist has been in a combat zone, and she's been frustrated because she doesn't have any sense of the big picture. She doesn't know what's going on.

"We get very little intel here," she says. "It was great to be able to talk to these guys, to let them know we are working our butts off here too."

Stenquist works on a casualty receiving team, pulling eight-hour shifts every day.

When an ambulance arrives at the hospital, she meets the rig outside. Security guards check the Iraqi patients and she does a quick triage.

"We can't bring anybody in until they are checked by security," Stenquist says. "Security checks them before we even touch them. None of our people are allowed weapons. The trick is keeping a clear mind. We are getting all variety of nationalities. We don't treat the patients; we treat the injuries. We will treat anyone who is injured."

They have seen everything from multiple gunshot wounds to motor vehicle accidents.

"A lot of the junior corpsman are amazed at the types of injuries we are getting with the limited amount of equipment we have," she says. "We're just making things up. We are making magic."

Stenquist grew up in Pontiac, Mich., and her family lives in Auburn Hills. She attended Eastern Michigan University to study nursing.

"I was only 17 when I went, and I wasn't sure if that's what I wanted to do," she says. "I figured joining the military and getting 12 weeks of school to be a corpsman and having that medical experience would let me know if that's what I wanted to do. I've just enjoyed it and stayed."

She has been on active duty for almost 10 years and plans to retire after 20.

"We can do everything like a physician assistant," she says. "We are doing sutures, procedures, putting in chest tubes, intubating patients, pushing morphine."

For Stenquist, the only real negative is being away from her daughter, Victoria Tison, who turned 1 on Thursday. Victoria is staying with her father, Blake Tison, in Pensacola, Fla.

"It was really hard," Stenquist says. "I spent the last seven years with the Marines and I came to shore duty to have a baby and finish school. It was harder than I thought it was gonna be to leave her. I think it's harder on me than her."


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

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