U.S. Army nurse Tara Spears stitches a soldier’s finger in a field hospital in Iraq, where she
served a three-month tour. Spears is now working on her master’s degree at U.Va.’s School
By Matt Kelly
A combat field hospital is similar to a standard hospital — with a major exception.
“In combat you see more gunshot and shrapnel wounds,” said Army nurse Capt. Tara O.
Spears, after serving three months in Iraq and Kuwait with the 86th Combat Support Hospital.
Her patients included a 5-month-old girl whose Arabic name translated to Flower. She had
suffered shrapnel and burn wounds to her legs, received in an incident that killed her mother.
“We took her in and made a makeshift crib for her out of a medical supply chest,” said
Spears, a 13-year Army veteran. “We kept her and took care of her legs.
Finally her aunt was found and she would stay with her and actually breast-feed her.” After the
wounds healed, Flower went home with her father.
“That was a nice, happy thing,” Spears said.
Spears, 35, a nurse in a 144-bed Army field hospital, will now incorporate her wartime
medical experience into her pursuit of a master’s degree from the U.Va. School of Nursing as
an acute care clinical nurse specialist with an emphasis in emergency nursing. She said her
experience will help her in class, and her advanced degree will help her in future
Experienced nurses return to school so they can provide leadership, consultation and
education in their workplace, said Arlene W. Keeling, director of the U.Va. Acute Care Nurse
Practitioner program, which upgrades nurses’ skills.
“We take them a step further,” said Keeling. “We keep them in direct practitioner roles with
higher clinical decision-making.” Attracted by the speed and efficiency of emergency
medicine, Spears also understands its limitations.
“I like being able to work with a team to help someone get better and being able to see the
results of what I do quickly,” she said. “Unfortunately, people don’t make it sometimes, and
that is hard. But you have to keep going.”
She treated a 13-year-old girl burned from the waist down when the kerosene stove she was
lighting exploded. She had gone a week without treatment when she was brought to Spears’
“We amputated her legs just below the hip to save her, but the infection had already gotten
into her system. No matter what we gave her, it didn’t help,” Spears said. “She died a couple
of weeks after she got to us.”
Treating Iraqis, while having no experience with their culture or language, has given Spears
an appreciation of diversity.
“In class, when we talk about cultural diversity and certain cultural aspects of nursing care, I
understand a little better because I actually had to deal with it,” she said. “And this was the
first time I had experienced that, plus the language barrier.”
In Iraq, which was Spears’ first combat experience, she treated everything from splinters to
razor wire cuts to bullet and shrapnel wounds to tank tread injuries.
“Anytime any of those soldiers came in sick or hurt, I felt like it was part of my family and I
would do everything I could to help them,” Spears said.
“Capt. Spears is at her best when it counts,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth McGraw, acting chief
nurse of the 86th Combat Support Hospital, who served with Spears in Kuwait. “During
numerous mass casualty situations she could be counted on to perform with
professionalism and tact.”It was the land outside the hospital that gave Spears pause.
“It’s sand, sand and more sand,” she said. “I have never seen such a desolate place. It was
well above 120 degrees in the shade, and the sand gets into everything.”
Spears endured frequent alerts for Scud missile attacks, and often the field hospital was
sealed against possible chemical attacks.
“We realized really quick that this wasn’t training any more, this was the real thing,” she said.
“But the training that the Army gave us had us prepared to do what needed to be done.”
The soldiers took breaks when they could, reading, pitching horseshoes, playing football,
watching Fox News and having an occasional barbecue.
“We made our own fun,” she said. “Everything was so stressful all the time, almost a constant
influx of patients, all of our beds were pretty full, and on top of the normal hospital busy-ness,
we had alerts that put more stress on us.”
Despite personal privations, Spears had positive contact with the Iraqis.
“The people and their gratitude for what we were doing [surprised me],” Spears said. “Most of
the Iraqis that I dealt with, the enemy prisoners of war and the civilians both, were so grateful
to us for what we were trying to do over there.”
The Army also worked with Iraqis to restore their hospitals, so civilians could be moved back
“From the medical aspect, they were really grateful because the hospitals were nonexistent,”
she said. “The building was there, there was some staff there, but they had hardly any
Spears clings to her memories of Iraq.
“I try to hold on to all of them,” she said. “Those that are happy, like that little girl, Flower. We
helped her get well, we helped her get back with some family. And the sad ones, as well,
because both teach you things.”
Navy Lieutenant Jody Shepard ’96
Shock Trauma Platoon 7'sResuscitation Team (above) —
including Jody Shepard ’96 — stand outside their ambulance
waiting to embark on a trip of their lives.
This Is A Great Story About Our Military Nurses In War.
Nursing Care On The Battlefield
Trauma care always evolves in war. And so does combat health support. Both change because
the nature of warfare and the battlefield itself change. In Iraq, we’ve learned many lessons that
have lead to major advances in military and civilian trauma care and to many important changes
in combat health support.
Today, the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan are characterized by quick military operations,
increased mobility and dispersion of the units, flexible and rapid task organization, and
geographically extended lines of communication. On those battlefields, we practice life- and limb-
saving surgery in an austere environment without the high technology available in a civilian
intensive care unit (ICU). That’s why U.S. Army critical care nurses need not only top-notch
nursing knowledge and skills, but also an ability to adapt to circumstances and environment.
Read More At: http://www.americannursetoday.com/Article.aspx?id=5138&fid=5120
Capt. Michelle Racicot, RN, BSN, CEN, wanted to be the perfect Army nurse — a tough soldier
as well as a skilled trauma RN. As a member of a forward surgical team in Afghanistan last
year, she was an expert in assessing and stabilizing soldiers with devastating wounds. She
trained medics, taught a Polish medical team to care for fresh trauma, and coped with the
constant infusion of adrenaline priming her body for action. To keep the stress in check, she
exercised relentlessly and cried in the shower.
Read More At:
War on the Mind, Part 1: Nurses Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with PTSD
2003 Invasion Of Iraq
U.S. Army M1A1 Abrams tanks and their crews pose for a photo in front
of the "Hands of Victory" monument at Baghdad's Ceremony Square in
The 2003 invasion of Iraq lasted from 19 March 2003 to 1 May 2003 and signaled
the start of the conflict that later came to be known as the Iraq War, which was
dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom by the United States (prior to 19 March, the
mission in Iraq was called Operation Enduring Freedom, a carryover from the
conflict in Afghanistan). The invasion consisted of 21 days of major combat
operations, in which a combined force of troops from the United States, the United
Kingdom, Australia, and Poland, invaded Iraq and deposed the Ba'athist
government of Saddam Hussein. The invasion phase consisted primarily of a
conventionally-fought war which concluded with the capture of the Iraqi capital of
Baghdad by American forces.
Taken From Wikipedia
Read MoreOn Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_invasion_of_Iraq
Overview Of The Iraqi War
Explosions illuminating the skies of Baghdad during the U.S.-led air bombardment of the city, March 2003. Credit: Ramzi