As you go about your holiday, we hope this soldier's words will
bring home the current sacrifice and bravery of our men and women in
the armed services. They most honorably deserve a moment of our
time, as well as our prayers this Memorial Day weekend.
It was a great day
today because nobody died. It sounds so morbid, but it's just a fact
of life out here. There was definitely a different feel in the air.
Speaking of air, let me tell you how bad the air smells if you are
around a Marine who has not showered in 5 months! Yes, that's
This Private First
Class came right off the battlefield, traveling in the helicopter
that brought him and his injured detainee to our hospital. One of my
staff got him some toiletries and a towel so he could take a shower.
He got all cleaned up, but then came back into the Operations Room
in the same stinky clothes he had been wearing for 5 months. I took
him down to the supply room where we keep extra uniforms, boots,
t-shirts, socks, toiletries, etc., and I hooked him up with some new
clothes. He was like a new man. He marveled at how interesting it
was to be inside a building again. I have to tell you – these young
Marines are a special breed and they tug at my heart every time.
They are polite and respectful and never ask for anything. They love
being out in the field and just want to get back with their guys to
join them in the fight.
paragraph was written 3 days ago and my how the feel in the air has
changed: literally. Last night there was a giant fire on Camp
Leatherneck. Thick black smoke was billowing from the supply lot and
drifting over Camp Bastion. Giant flames and huge explosions
occurred as ammunition was cooked off. The fire continued into the
night. To add insult to injury, a sand storm then decided to hit!
This time, I was
still at work so I didn't have to be outside feeling the brunt of
the storm, but the dust still seeps in everywhere, burning your eyes
and lungs. The fire alarms were going off in every building and
tent. After the sand storm subsided, I climbed on the top of one of
the large metal containers and watched as the firefighters attempted
to put out the fire still burning over at Leatherneck. It was still
not out when I finally went back to my tent at 11:30pm.
Just when you think
things couldn't get much worse, the fire alarms start going off
again at 5:30am: this time from the smoke. The air was thick and you
could still see the fire burning. After a short muster, they allowed
us back into our tents and I caught a few more hours of sleep.
Save a few smoke
inhalation cases, amazingly nobody got seriously hurt from the fire.
Some displaced individuals were housed in the dining facilities, so
MREs replaced fresh-cooked food. Because of the high operations
tempo, my department had not picked up mail for our group for 2
days, so I was bound and determined to make the trip when my boss
told me that we could still get on the base.
Little did I know
we would have to take the long way around, almost getting lost and
nearly getting stuck in the sand. I learned my lesson to close the
windows or you'll get a face full of dirt trying to drive through
that stuff. But alas, the lesson was short-lived, for when I
returned, our vehicles got repossessed. No, it's not because of my
driving...somebody forgot to pay the bill for the contract.
I was thankful for
a chance to sleep in, as today was the most trying day for me yet.
Mentally, it seems to be getting harder and harder for me to see the
horrific injuries suffered by our young Marines. I can't even
describe how sickening it is to see somebody come out of the
ambulance with their limbs blown off or their face so completely
bloody that you wouldn't even recognize the man if you knew him. You
can't really see the flesh and blood because everything is wrapped
up, but you know by the way it looks that his leg or arm is gone.
[to top of second column]
I was confused
today when we were told a triple amputee was expected and I saw that
he still had one of his boots on. As he was lowered out of the
ambulance, however, I then saw by the girth of the bandage that
there was no flesh there. A double amputee was followed 25 minutes
later by a triple amputee. Stories of heroism on the battlefield
follow shortly thereafter.
The smell is also
incredibly insulting to the senses and forever burned into my
memory. But what gets to me even more is the look on everybody's
faces right before the doors to the ambulance swing open. The
tension in the air is palpable and it shows. People don't want to
look, but at the same time they want to see for themselves, to judge
for themselves whether or not the guy is going to make it.
And when the Marine
with 3 of his limbs missing takes his one good arm and gives
everyone a thumbs up as he comes out of the ambulance, your stomach
sinks to your knees and you feel as if you heart is going to explode
as you choke back the tears.
With all this
tragedy, it is now the simple, selfless acts that bring me great
happiness. The Marine I mentioned in the first paragraph is still
here, serving as a guard for an injured Detainee. I asked him how he
was doing and if there was anything he needed. He said he didn't
need anything and thanked me. We continued to talk and just as I was
about to say goodbye, he seemed to reluctantly ask me if I could
help him find a cover (a hat). He was walking back and forth from
Bastion to Leatherneck and was getting yelled at for not wearing his
cover. I told him I would check the supply closet.
As I was leaving
the ward, I saw three Marines standing in the hallway. I figured it
would be pointless, but I asked them if any of them had an extra
cover with them. They kind of looked at me incredulously, but
inquired as to why I would ask the question. I told them the story
of the Marine.
Without skipping a
beat, the Chief Warrant Officer then took his cover out of his
pocket and handed it to me. I started to protest, saying that he
would now be without a cover. He then said to me, "Ma'am, I'm a
Chief Warrant Officer...they can yell at me all they want." And with
that, I thanked him, put the cover back in his hands, and told him
where he could find the Private First Class. I walked away before he
could see the tears welling in my eyes.
I finish the night
knowing the next sand storm is forecast for some time tonight and
that I'll have to probably drag myself out of bed when the fire
alarms go off – a minor irritation in the grand scheme of things.
Response from Henriquez to Phil Bertoni, who requested permission
to publish this letter:
Writing this letter
to my family and friends was a way for me to process the events I
experienced; there was no thought of writing this for publication. I
am happy, however, that people are moved by the story and appreciate
a first-hand account of life out here.
Please let me know
if you have any questions.
LT Natalia C.
U.S. Medical Operations Department Head
United Kingdom Role 3 Hospital
Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
[Text from file received]
Click here to respond to the editor about this