Someone Always Has It Worse: The Convoy to Balad

Robert D. Forsten

There is an unwritten rule in the Army: “If you think you have it bad, there is always someone somewhere that has it worse.” Usually, that person in the Army has a combat arms background (Infantry, Armor, Special Forces). Most of these volunteers love what they do and would have it no other way. It was and still is an honor to support them medically, and I have the utmost respect for these front-line fighters; they have earned it a hundred times over in the last 15 years. I certainly don’t mean to belittle them in the text that follows nor do I wish to make light of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq or those that came home with physical or mental wounds they will carry for the remainder of their lives. But I tend to see humor as a great defense or coping mechanism when dealing with stress and in doing so, believe it builds resilience.

There is a saying that war is 90 % boredom and 10 % sheer terror. I think those that closely served with me in a Combat Support Hospital during this deployment would agree that our ratio was closer to 70 % boredom, and 30 % humor, even during those brief times of terror secondary to mostly rocket or mortar attacks. Humor helped to cope with the boredom, frustration, and suffering and, in my opinion, was the glue that held us together as a team. This chapter will cover the weeks leading up to deployment into Iraq, from Fort Hood, Texas, to Camp Victory in Kuwait, to the four-day convoy to Balad, Iraq, about 40 miles North of Baghdad.

Looking back, the initial few months of the deployment was tough at times but not too difficult. More tests of hard times were in my future. However, my progression toward enlightenment on the point that “someone always had it worse” started at Darnell Army Community Hospital at Fort Hood, Texas. I was the Chief of

R.D. Forsten, D.O. (*)

Behavioral Health and Integrative Medicine, US Army, 62nd Medical Brigade,

Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, USA

Behavioral Health and Integrative Medicine, National Intrepid Center of Excellence,

Bethesda, MD, USA

e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017 21

E.C. Ritchie et al. (eds.), Psychiatrists in Combat,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44118-4_3

Outpatient Psychiatry. It was an impressive sounding title, but I was the most junior officer on the department medical staff.

The work was slow, and uninteresting compared to my previous 2 years assigned as the Division Psychiatrist to the first Cavalry Division. Most of the soldiers that came into the outpatient clinic at Darnall during this time were related to morale issues or anxiety to the upcoming deployment.

There were a lot of soldiers transitioning through Fort Hood at the time since it was 2003, and we were going to Iraq. The Department Chief approached me in February 2003 and asked me if I wanted to volunteer to deploy with the 21st Combat Support Hospital (CSH). This unit would be built around a core of locally assigned medical staff, but would pull staff from military hospitals all around the country using the professional filler system, or PROFIS.

My wife was six months pregnant with our third child, which gave me some pause, but I selfishly jumped at the chance to deploy. And I will add that barring capture (death or injury never crossed my mind), I suspected my deployment would be easier for me than her staying home with a newborn and two toddlers ages 1 and 2 (I was right). My major reference point for what this deployment would look like was the short Gulf War in 1991, and I figured it would not be more than 6 months. I had previously completed a training rotation with the unit I was assigned to with the First Cavalry Division at the National Training Center (NTC). NTC is located at Fort Irwin, California, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It was dry, hot and austere preparation for what we faced in Iraq.

I spent the 90s in a psychiatry internship, residency and fellowship; thus I was not permitted to deploy while in training status. My first assignment out of training was with the First Cavalry Division in 2000, and that unit did not deploy to Afghanistan. I expected Iraq might be my only opportunity to deploy, and I did not want to be that soldier who spent his entire career practicing for the big game but never getting in the game. I firmly believed that the USA would not be involved in either country for too long, and wanted to do my part in service.

The CSH did some training at Fort Hood, familiarizing ourselves with weapons, chemical/biological equipment, etc. I had qualified as an expert shot with the M16 rifle and M9 pistol with previous units, but I wasn’t assigned a weapon. At the time, Army policy stated that only 70 % of medical personnel were required to be armed when deployed. I wasn’t too upset, if it came down to doctors and nurses needing actually to fire at an enemy combatant, there would be plenty of weapons lying around. Additionally, I thought about accountability for that weapon 24/7. Not having a weapon in combat could end my life, but losing one could end my career. I gambled with the latter and took the same attitude in a future deployment. I would not make the same choice if I ever deploy again, but that decision is based on better training and familiarization I later received while serving in another unit.

We were warned that we would not have cots once we arrived in Kuwait, secondary to a change of plans in the overall unit deployment orders. All our equipment was to be routed through a particular country, and that changed unexpectedly at the last minute. These things happen and it was no fault of the command or supply (it helps to take this attitude, and better to laugh than get angry) so I purchased and duct taped a cot to the side of my duffle bag. There would be things crawling on the ground in the desert that would be attracted to my body heat.

My cot became an issue of both admiration and contention when we arrived in Kuwait. As advertised, there were no other sleeping options but the ground for the 76 other souls with whom I shared a tent. The extra space my bed occupied was resented by a few, but I’d always been a light sleeper, so I wasn’t about to give it up and face the constant barrage of coughing (or feet) in my face all through the night.

The coughing was an epidemic in Kuwait. The ever-present dust from the desert storms blasted into the tent, fouling both lungs and equipment, every time someone was foolish enough to open the door. Viruses also spread rampantly. Outside it was 110 °F, but overly enthusiastic air conditioners kept the temperatures inside at near freezing.

The cold ate at me at night. I had brought only a thin green sleeping bag rather than the winter black shell we were also issued. Back at Fort Hood, the thicker material had seemed an undue burden to carry to the scorching desert. After all, we weren’t even supposed to be there for the winter. It was going to be a short war, and my deployment orders ended in 179 days (I learned later that the Army could always change or extend orders). And it was much colder in the winter.

The solution to the frigid tent came in the form of a horse blanket bought from a local Kuwaiti. It smelled like a stable, but at least it was warm. In retrospect, I could have broken out the polypro long underwear that lurked at the bottom of my duffle bag. At the time, apathy was a stronger force than the cold.

My resolve was weakened not only by the sand and the extremes of temperature but also by the acclimatization illness. This came in the form of a cough, sore throat, fever, headache, dizziness, fatigue, joint pain, and diarrhea. The diarrhea was the worst. The constant call of nature meant I had to endure the mental anguish of visiting the “blue room,” as we called the portable toilet made of blue plastic. Unless caught immediately after a visit from the SST (Sh-Sucking Truck), the blue room was the nightmare of any obsessive compulsive. Once, on one of my 5-6 daily runs, I entered only to find that someone, presumably with a passive-aggressive personality, had defecated in the urinal. Given the angle of approach required for such a feat, the individual must have been a gymnast or contortionist before joining the military. Anger and frustration can lead to some amazing acts.

Given the level of morale at the base, I did surprisingly little work as a psychiatrist while in Kuwait. This troubled me, as I didn’t want to lose my skills. I tried to advertise my presence, and eventually, word got out to units around us that a psychiatrist was available “a few tents over.” Soldiers in our unit or others that had trouble adjusting would meet with to me, usually brought by a senior enlisted supervisor who had noticed something was wrong. I would talk with these soldiers sitting in the sand. At the end of our talks, I’d write up a brief note, give it to them, and instruct them to place it in their medical record. Even if they had to wait until they redeployed, I stressed the importance of keeping that note in case there were any problems later during the deployment or after deployment back home.

There were rare occasions when more serious work was necessary. I had several unit commanders approach me to evaluate one of their soldiers who had said something about killing himself or someone else. Again, the soldier and I would sit in the sand and talk. I ended up sending one man to a larger medical hospital for further evaluation, but all others went back to their units.

Some psychiatrists in this position tended to order a weapon or firing pin be temporarily removed. Others would instruct that a watch be set on the soldier until everyone was sure that the situation had calmed down. My personal and professional belief was that neither the unit nor the soldier needed that burden. It would only make things worse. If something concerned me enough that I didn’t entirely feel comfortable sending a soldier back unmonitored, I would talk to the unit chaplain, and ensure they checked in each day. But ultimately I felt that it was my duty to make that decision. I was the expert and had an outstanding military residency training program that prepared me to make that call, in addition to 2 years’ experience and training with the First Cavalry Division.

Sometimes schedules were flexible, and I could have the soldier come back and see me for what resembled regular appointments. They were good kids, and I figured I could talk to them about their issues, and help them work on personality traits that didn’t adapt so well to the desert. Often these soldiers would suddenly disappear from our impromptu counseling. Sometimes, they lost interest, but more often I found that they had deployed north to Iraq with their unit.

Despite the malaise and lack of purpose, my obsessive compulsive nature was not entirely defeated. To the amusement of my tent mates, every morning I would neatly roll up my sleeping bag, bedroll, and horse blanket. Each night these would be carefully unfolded and arranged on my cot. Most of my friends had forsaken even basic hygiene, and questioned this ritual with a simple “why bother?” But the dust continued to pile in, and I didn’t see the ability to do laundry coming anytime soon. A simple fix was to issue a bucket for washing that fit snugly into the bottom of each duffle bag with the huge assumption there would be water in the desert.

Even as I started to recover from my sickness, the hacking of my tent mates continued to keep me up at night. Thus, fatigue was terrible during the day. The camp opened up a dining facility (DFAC) after our second week in Kuwait, but it was a half-mile away. Just to walk 100 yards in the sand was an effort. I ate infrequently. Gym equipment helped quite a bit with morale but we didn’t bring enough and the stuff we did have was broken or outdated. Between sickness, fatigue, not eating, and not exercising, I lost close to 20 lbs while waiting in Kuwait.

Small luxuries provided greater motivation and improved morale. We had a small military store, a Post Exchange or PX, open shortly after the DFAC. Our oral surgeon talked me into waiting in line with him to see what could be bought. We shuffled to the end of the line. It had not seemed that long, but after a long wait, we had moved forward only about 10 ft. I asked the guys in front of us how long they were waiting. They said they were where we were an hour ago. I left and went back to our tent.

Returning from the frustration of failed consumerism, I was struck for neither the first nor last time by that Army rule about someone having it worse. Two soldiers from an armored cavalry regiment (ACR) had come into our tent looking for our first sergeant. They had been told he could get them some water. Each of the ACR soldiers was laden with a large amount of gear and weapons. As they stood in what I thought of as our dismal tent, the look on their faces was one of awe. There was a longing in their eyes, similar to what I felt when I saw Air Force jets flying over returning to Kuwait.

“This must be the easy life,” one of them said.

“Air conditioning in the desert,” said the other.

“And I think I saw a DFAC out there.”

“No sh—. And a PX.”

We offered them an air conditioner to go with their supplies as they left. Cold air in the tent was something of which we had an over-abundance. But they had no way to run it. Air conditioners might be plentiful, but the generators to run them were rarer, and harder to transport.

Having failed again to help, the apathy was as contagious as the coughing in our tent. When the power went out one day, everyone assumed that someone else would fix it. When nothing changed by nightfall, instead of any of us taking the initiative to look into the problem, we pulled out flashlights, or just rolled over early to bed. After a short time, the apathy started to weigh on our tent in quite a literal way. The sand had built up during storms, and the side supports were bowed in precariously. One more storm would probably have collapsed our home, but we stubbornly refused to do anything.

We had a good team of surgeons with us, and we all knew that the trauma team would be essential once we started moving across the border. Unfortunately, the necessary surgical equipment that had come to us in MILVANS, the 20 by 40-ft containers the Army uses for transport, hadn’t been properly blocked or braced. Operating tables and scalpels were strewn everywhere, as was medical equipment for other specialties. As a psychiatrist, I didn’t need much to do my job, but if our mobile hospital was going to treat bullet wounds and bleeding, we needed to get the equipment organized to survive the trip into Iraq.

We sorted and packed equipment, and threw out the trash. It was grueling work in the desert heat, but it felt useful. We started smiling at each other, feeling like a team. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and techs, we were all pulling our weight. We were laying the groundwork that would be needed when the invasion began.

I walked back from this work feeling better than I had since arriving when a Humvee started to pass. I flagged it down, and they offered a ride.

“Where are you headed,” I asked.

“Arifjan,” answered the unit’s supply captain, speaking of the base in Kuwait that

housed the other U.S. military services, the Marines, Navy, Air Force, and even Coast

Guard.

I noticed that there were only two passengers in the vehicle other than myself. It seemed less cramped than the tent to which I would otherwise return.

“Hey captain, you mind if I go with you?” I called out over the rumble of the engine.

“Why?”

“To add a little extra security to your convoy.”

“Do you have a weapon?”

“No, but I can get one,” I said while thinking, where can I get a weapon?

The driver shrugged. “I don’t care, as long as it’s all right with the acting commander.” “I’ll see,” I said.

Our executive officer, or XO, typically second in command, was acting commander at the time. He was also a friend from Fort Hood. I explained the situation and requested to go.

“I don’t care, just let the chief doc know,” the XO said with the contempt of a man who has to stay behind and run the unit.

One problem down, one more to go. I made a beeline for one of my new friends, a surgeon that I saw with an M9 pistol earlier. I asked him for his weapon.

“Here you go. Have fun,” he said, handing over the pistol and a ten round clip without even asking why I needed it. Some would think this unprofessional as a soldier and typical of medical personnel. That is entirely not the case. After closely working and living together for weeks, we trusted each other, knew strengths and weaknesses, and this trust would be extended to most, if not all, of the unit’s medical officers at this point and throughout the deployment.

I holstered the weapon and ran back out to the Humvee.

“Ready to go,” I said, jumping into the back seat.

The captain looked in the rear view mirror and tapped his head.

“Helmet?” the passenger next to me explained.

“Oh crap, wait up” I exclaimed. I was so excited to finally do something my brain was not working properly (perhaps that’s how people get hurt in combat, OCD can be a good thing). I made another dash back for the tent while the entire convoy waited thinking, “Who was this screwed up major?” The captain and I became good friends for the next 11 months.

The moral of this story is one of many throughout my experience and career. Relationships mean everything in the Army and can make or break an individual, unit, or mission. That remains true today at every level from tactical, operational, and even more importantly, strategic. Even though we all went our separate ways after returning, I would make friends in this unit that I am still close with today.

Armed, and my skull protected by Kevlar, we finally moved on. It was my first time leaving the gate of Camp Victory since arriving in Kuwait. We rumbled through the desert toward new adventures.

Our first stop was Port LSA Spearhead. The temperature dropped 10-15 °F, down into the almost bearable 90s as we approach the sea. You could smell the salt in the air. Ships were unloading an incredible volume of military equipment: tanks and Humvees, rifles and bullets, plus the tons upon tons of basic supplies that are necessary to keep an Army marching on its stomach.

The CPT moved toward the vast line of vehicles to try and wrangle some transport options for our unit. I walked around and noticed they had trailer bathrooms and showers. Porcelain toilets here, the height of luxury, much better than our tents in the sand (I would not see a porcelain toilet for 11 months in Iraq). Outside the bathrooms, I noticed a Navy officer crouching over what looked to be a giant spider, 5 in. long and the color of the sand. It raised its mandibles threateningly.

“What the heck is that?” I asked.

“Darn if I know,” he said picking up the creature with a water bottle cut in half. “It has

ten legs. Spiders are only supposed to have eight.”

It turned out the officer was an entomologist. Dealing with the local bugs is a surprisingly important part of any invasion plan. He told me this creature was a camel spider, which is more closely related to scorpions than spiders. They aren’t poisonous but are vicious hunters. Camel spiders use their four, powerful mandibles to tear apart small prey, and they have a large tail that mimics a real scorpion and can scare off larger creatures. They will also fight to the death if two of them are put together. Or so I was told; never tested that idea.

That night, in the tent with my new bunk mates, I scooped up another of the camel spiders that was looking to join us. I repeated the entomologist’s lecture, which made me the celebrity spider-expert of the evening. Several soldiers seemed particularly taken with the idea of camel-spider fights, and went off to look for potential gladiators. I wondered what I might have started. Another rule I learned early on is that soldiers do a lot of stupid stuff to fight boredom. In some cases, this leads to a lot of pain and sometimes, unfortunately, death. My comrades and I were lucky during this deployment.

We drove from the port to finish our journey toward Camp Arifjan. We pulled into a field hospital set up in a warehouse on the center of the base. We dropped off some medical equipment then headed to a huge dining facility. At least 2000 soldiers, sailors, airman, and marines sat down to have dinner. The food was plentiful, and I ate like a prisoner at his last meal.

After dinner, it was time to turn back and convoy through the starry desert to Camp Victory. As we headed out, I again put on my helmet and checked the firearm at my side. I noticed that the troops we have encountered along the way were wearing soft caps rather than helmets. Most of them neglected to even carry their gasmasks. Not that I ever thought I was in any danger, I just tried to follow the rules. If someone in charge said we were allowed to walk around in shorts and flip-flops, I would have complied.

I checked back in at my medical unit when I returned to Camp Victory. The chief hospital physician said things had been slow. He mentioned receiving a call from Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan asking if any of our medical personnel wanted to relieve the staff there. The response was a simple, “No.” They called the following day again, and we answered with added expletives. We still hadn’t done anything in this war, had started some bonding in the unit, and didn’t want to start all over with another unit in a different country.

Of course, for us, the war hadn’t started. All we had been doing was preparing, and waiting. Then the word came down. We were moving north. I packed everything into one duffle bag (with cot duck taped to it) and rucksack in preparation to leave for Baghdad on Easter Sunday.

The holiday came and went. We packed, and unpacked, and packed again. The mission changed with the baggage. The cycle of waiting and not knowing wore upon morale, but we were excited. We were finally going on the adventure we anticipated when joining the Army.

In 2003, there were only two ways to get troops to Baghdad: aircraft, or riding in the open beds of huge 5-ton military trucks. The Army hadn’t yet started to install armor on these vehicles, and mine-resistant transport was still years away. I was displeased the choice turned out to be by truck (better than walking, think of our troops during the civil war). I had already turned my only weapon back over to the surgeon. Our chief nurse spoke for all of us when bringing up the point at headquarters that medical staff in unhardened (no armor) vehicles presented an easy target for Iraqis who wanted to go “hunting for Americans.” The response from our higher command did little to improve our anxiety, but looking back, I know our commanders were extremely busy and probably working on 3-4 hours of sleep a night for weeks. But in potential life or death situations, it is better to spend a few minutes to explain what is going on and why; this builds team trust and increases morale. To this day, I don’t sweat the small stuff, but I do tend to get a little more vocal where safety is concerned.

We awoke before 4:00 am for our convoy out of Camp Victory. When our tent of 50 men was up and ready to move, we looked out to a strange absence of activity. It turned out that our start time had been changed from 4 to 6.30. Hurry up and wait.

At 10:00 am, we finally rolled out of Camp Victory. Our convoy consisted of one wrecker, one Humvee, and six trucks, each loaded with 17 men. The vehicles were uncovered, so the heat of the sun beat down on us without mercy. To prevent malaria, we were all taking doxycycline tablets, but an unfortunate side effect of this medication is that it increases sensitivity to the sun (leading to sunburn). We had the choice of turning to lobsters or covering head to toe. I wore gloves, masks, and a helmet in 100 °F heat. Dust and diesel fumes added to the discomfort.

We tried to track our progress as we went, but those of us in the back of vehicles lacked an official map or military GPS. (I brought a civilian GPS, which helped us a day later when lost and helped me navigate a convoy from Balad to Kuwait, first becoming lost in Baghdad). I found a copy of Newsweek that had a reasonably detailed map of the major points of interest in Iraq and used this to try and match our position to the border crossing, fueling stops, and other identifiable landmarks on our journey. I’m pretty sure we crossed the Iraq border at Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq that connects to Kuwait by a bridge across a small inlet. The US civilian contractor pumping gas on the boarder before we crossed into Iraq said he was being paid close to a hundred thousand dollars for 6 months. I don’t know if that was true, but if it was, he earned every penny. At the time, I thought that must have been the hottest, busiest, and most dangerous place in the world. I couldn’t imagine a worse place to be. Of course, we weren’t in Iraq yet.

Crossing the border, the first thing I noticed was a large fence with concertina wire and deep pits (I assume were tank traps) that stretched as far as the eye could see. There was nothing on the Kuwaiti side of the border: no houses, people, or animals, just sand. On the Iraq side, however, just past the tank traps were little farms with a few scraggly animals. People came out of their little mud houses to see us pass.

Stark reality here that someone always has it worse than you. We had complained about being deployed to the armpit of the world, but we drove on. These people stayed. A 2-year-old child stood at the side of the highway looking at us. He was soon joined by other young children, all coming dangerously close to our oversized wheels. No adult seemed to care.

Some of the children were begging for food. We had been warned not to give them anything. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to, but items thrown from a truck sometimes were sucked back in by the wind. Children paying no heed to anything but their hunger would run directly into the path of the convoy, and the drivers had been told not to stop for anything.

Luckily these orders weren’t always obeyed. A veteran of the Gulf War was driving our truck. A child lay down in the road in front of us, clambering for something. A senior enlisted sergeant told him not to stop, and he replied, “F-k that, I’m not running over a kid.” Ethical issue solved.

As we progressed deeper into Iraq, the number of children increased. There were hundreds, and they were now joined by adults who were trying not only to get food but also to sell us their Iraqi dinars for a few bills of currency that didn’t include the face of the disposed Saddam Husain. It was no wonder that the people had never risen against him. They were struggling too hard just to survive. And I’m not going to go into how Saddam treated the Shia population in Southern Iraq after the first Gulf War, but he killed them by the thousands.

The children continued to approach, barefooted and walking on tar heated to 150 °F. They would offer wads of the worthless Iraqi currency, repeating over and over again “dollars.” One private in our unit leaned down and exchanged four dollars for five hundred dinars. He thought he had gotten a good deal until he discovered others that had gotten five to six thousand dinars per dollar. I tried to cheer him up by telling him that it may be worth something if he passed it along to his family for the next 150 years.

The carnival atmosphere of our slow trek toward Baghdad was altered one day when a kid, as innocent looking like all the others, approached and suddenly threw something into the truck. A black cylinder, about 4 in. long, covered in electrical tape, and with what looked like a fuse on one end landed directly between a private first class and me. This might have been a probe to see how we would react.

Our reaction was the private and I exchanging a sudden wide-eyed look, and a “Holy sh-!” but then the apparent dynamite bounced harmlessly out behind us. We waited for an explosion, but it never came. The kid who had thrown it was lost in the mass of children just looking for food.

We tried to be more careful after that. We didn’t run over anyone, but we also didn’t exchange any more currency. The convoy just rumbled on, as did we. The closer we moved North, the more destruction we encountered. I stopped counting the smoking Iraqi T-72 tanks and armored personnel vehicles; there were so many.

We suffered, and complained, and knew that there were those who had it much, much worse. But when soldiers complained, you knew they were ok; it’s when they stopped complaining that you needed to worry about them.

We were lost outside of Nasirayi on the second night of the convoy. Getting lost in a combat zone is never a good thing. Then one of the unit’s large trucks got stuck in the sand when we attempted to turn the convoy around. We all dismounted and moved into the surrounding fields to maintain security. About 500 m in front of us there was tracer fire from what were assumed to be AK-47s. We didn’t know if it was a battle or celebratory fire but this was the same area where a maintenance unit was ambushed about 3 weeks prior after getting lost. So we are all out in this field, and I noticed the dried hard-packed mud was of the perfect consistency for throwing dirt bombs like we all did as kids. Lying on stomachs, I’m reaching up and chucking dirt bombs at the helmet of an internist doc, and friend, next to me. After the third or fourth of these hitting his helmet with a nice “thwack,” he tells me to stop and annoyingly asked me what the hell I was doing. I responded, “I’m zeroing my weapon.” This triggered a muffled laugh. For a very brief time, we medical personnel were those that had it worse than most others. We became even closer friends after that, and the two of us would routinely use humor to mold our group of medical professionals to help us survive the rest of the deployment (and to fight boredom, we would usually volunteer for any mission that broke up the routine of the week). We all left that field, attempting to retrace our footsteps after our chief nurse discovered unexploded ordnance in the area in which we were all sitting. But we got the truck unstuck and fortunately found our way back to the right route (our operations officer, or S3, sought me out after learning that I had a GPS).

We always found a way to get “unstuck” from situations, that’s what good teams do. We were fortunate in a lot of ways over the next 11 months. I attribute that to leadership and luck. A good military leader will acknowledge the latter after a successful command tour, especially in combat. Some say that units who train harder make their own luck. I agree to an extent. We never lost a soldier, nor could I recall even one serious injury but I tend only to remember the positive aspects. This is what some today call traumatic growth. It was still two more days to get to Balad and what would eventually be our home for the next 11 months. The CSH saved many lives and reduced a lot of suffering during that time. Coming together as a team helped us conduct our mission, and that bond we shared was built with humor, and never taking ourselves too seriously unless it involved life, limb, or eyesight. We knew there were a lot of Soldiers out there in worse places counting on us.

COL Robert D. Forsten is an Army Psychiatrist and former commander of the 121st Combat Support Hospital, Seoul, South Korea. A graduate of the Army War College, he is currently the commander of the 62nd Medical Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

 
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