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'The Lifeline': A Combat Surgeon's War Stories

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY, I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. In Baghdad today, Saddam Hussein has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in Operation Anfal. That's a campaign in the 1980s that resulted in the gassing deaths of 5,000 Kurds.

CHADWICK: This week, the Los Angeles Times is running a series about medical support for U.S. troops in Iraq. It features some of the most graphic Iraq War images the paper's ever published. Many of the photos were taken at the U.S. Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad, Iraq. One former commander of the hospital in Balad told the L.A. Times that staff doctors quote, “fight to get here so they can do this job, and they don't want to leave”. Dr. Verba Moore was a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force for 22 years, scheduled to retire last year without ever going to Iraq. Instead, she applied for a position at the hospital in Balad, and from April to September of last year, she was Commander of the 332nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron. She joins us now from Hampton, Virginia and her home. Dr. Moore, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

DR. VERBA MOORE (Retired Air Force Commander): Thank you. I'm glad to be hear.

CHADWICK: Why was it you were so interested in getting to this hospital at Balad?

Dr. MOORE: Well, as I said, I'd been in for 22 and a half years, and I trained as a flight surgeon. Kosovo came and went, Desert Storm came and went, and I felt that through all of that time, I never had an opportunity to put in place those skills that I had been trained that the Air Force had spent all that money on me. And I wanted to make a contribution, I wanted to do what I was really trained to do.

CHADWICK: And what were your duties?

Dr. MOORE: The key part was to run the contingency aero medical staging facility. That is sort of described as the bus station out of there for all of the injured and ill.

CHADWICK: Balad is, as I read in the L.A. Timesm is a hugem mostly tent facility north of Baghdad, capable of very sophisticated procedures, even though you're operating in tents--four hundred surgeries per month. Isn't that a pretty busy place to be working?

Dr. MOORE: It's extremely busy place. I've seen it where an individual would be injured in the battlefield in the morning, get to the hospital midday, be operated on, and if the connection was right, they'd be on a plane going out to Germany that very night. We were under attack periodically. Our first night there, many of us were ducking under our bunks there to--because we had some incoming mortar, so that was, that was unnerving, but after a while you, you realize this is, this is what it's going to be. You put your body armor on, and you go about doing the business that you were sent there to do.

CHADWICK: I've read articles about trauma centers in warzones becoming sorts of laboratories for developing new techniques and new ways to save the badly wounded. What kinds of things did you see there that was new?

Dr. MOORE: Some of the things more was taking some of the research tools that we were working on back at home. For instance, what we call the quick clot, which is a clotting solution. Seeing how that was going to work in new wounds, and actually, that's being used at the very forefront by the initial responders, those combat medics, as well as the new tourniquets and seeing what those had provided for us. But the volume of it is really what I think was the most important thing, is being able to see that much of it and developing your skill very rapidly over time and becoming very expert at what you do before you leave there.

CHADWICK: Retired Air Force Commander, Dr. Verba Moore, former squadron leader of the 332nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron in Balad, Iraq, speaking from Hampton, Virginia. Dr. Moore, thank you.

Dr. MOORE: You're welcome. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.