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by Crista Walker, PAO Staff

  "They didn't know what to think of me," said Spec. Kathy Piccollo, a Third Armored Division medic who drove her crew to a nearby holding point to treat Iraqi prisoners.

Piccollo, a medic of 3 & 1/2 years, said that the seven hours spent treating, cleaning and talking to Iraqi soldiers, who have never seen a female soldier before, gave everyone a new perspective about "life on the other side."

The 30-year-old medic had her work cut out for her. Upon arriving at the MP-guarded site, Piccollo saw 38 Iraqi troops. "They were all sleeping in a big pit with minimal clothing."

And after the medical team set up the ambulance and talked with the MPs, she began to understand what kind of condition the Iraqis were in.

"They had walked over 110 miles within 3 days so they could surrender - many with no shoes or socks," Piccollo recalled. "They were going through MREs left and right. One consumed six MREs in about 45 minutes. They were that hungry." She also pointed out that most hadn't bathed in more than three weeks.

Chief Warrant Officer Ben Beaoui was one of two physician assistants at the site. A native of Kairouan, Tunisia, Beaoui explained to the Iraqis in Arabic that the medics were there to help them, willing to provide treatment for their ailments.

As prisoners lined up from behind the ambulance, Piccollo immediately felt foreign, uncertain eyes upon her.

"They were probably told about female soldiers, but they had never seen one before," Piccollo, a Rochester, N.Y., native, said of her Iraqi patients. "There was a lot of intense looking and staring," she said. "They were awestruck. They would look at myself and Spec. Bartz, the female MP there, and then look at our weapons . . . then at us again."

Piccollo recognized the cultural differences regarding females quickly. After the soldiers were screened by the two physician assistants, they were then sent to Piccollo to administer treatment. She found that when the prisoners were under her care, most seemed unappreciative, and even a little arrogant toward her.

"When I got done treating most of them, which were basically minimal foot problems, blisters and really bad hygiene, they seemed to want more treatment than was supposed to be given, such as full bathing .. . and just basically more attention."

"They were not difficult to deal with at all, but I think they felt that the Americans owed them." Piccollo sited an instance when an Iraqi soldier about 16 years of age approached her for treatment. "He spoke some English and said to me, 'You need to take care of us.' I found that a little offensive."

Not all took such a cocky attitude with Piccollo, however. Her last patient was an English-speaking Iraqi chemistry professor, whom she found herself taken with. "From the beginning he was very appreciative. He told his counterparts that we were there to help and treat them and to be thankful for it."

Piccollo began washing an infected area on his hand.

"I thought it was just dried blood from maybe crawling out from someplace, but once I started cleaning and disinfecting, he jumped and said, 'It's OK, you're not hurting me. It's OK.'" Piccollo found a chunk of shrapnel in the palm of his hand that had been there for days.

Seeing that this soldier had more problems than the majority, especially with his feet, she was impressed by his courage. "He wasn't begging for treatment, even though we were there," she remembered. "He had no socks or shoes whatsoever, but he wasn't too concerned about that. I felt so bad, that I wanted to take my socks off and give them to him."

Piccollo knew that her wish would never happen. The medics were told that Iraqis were afraid to take anything from Americans, because if someone spotted them with American equipment in Iraq, they would be shot.

After all was bandaged and done and Piccollo was driving her crew back to their camp, she felt proud of her accomplishments that night as an American soldier. "I think they felt threatened by an American female." And she admitted, "It felt good that they could see what we were all about. They could see that we worked together as a team rather than singling me out as a female. I don't think they acknowledged that we were in the same Army."

Another lesson learned by Iraqi troops.

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