EYES TURN TO FEMALE MEDIC
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
"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.