It was ten years ago to the day on July 29, 2003, that the final group of Naval Hospital Bremerton staff members returned from Fleet Hospital 8 at Rota, Spain supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
At the time it was the first, largest and longest deployed fleet hospital in Navy Medicine and provided direct medical care to approximately 1,400 patients and conducted more than 250 surgeries.
“I don’t recall exactly when I knew that Fleet Hospital 8 would play a major role, but soon after 9/11, we knew something was ramping up,” recalled retired Hospital Corpsman Chief Steven C. Jackson, who deployed from March to September 2003 as leading chief petty officer for Fleet Hospital 8 Surgical Services. “We were materially ready thanks to good preparation and training, but we had no idea what to expect or how it would affect our own lives.”
NHB initially received orders that February to staff, ready and deploy 274 personnel from NHB as well as nine other commands to stand up and support a 116-bed Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF) to Rota, Spain.
A month later, NHB received a second deployment order for 278 additional personnel from NHB and 14 commands to expand Fleet Hospital Eight into a 250-bed Fleet Hospital to support sustained combat operations with 18 wings, three operating rooms, seven wards and four intensive care units. This deployment was conducted in two groups, one group of 100 personnel, and one group of 178 personnel one-week apart.
Fleet Hospital’s are transportable, medically and surgically intensive, and deployable in a variety of operational scenarios. While initially conceived and developed as war reserve facilities to provide medical support during intense combat operations, FHs can also be used in protracted low intensity conflict scenarios, and with design changes, humanitarian operations. Fleet Hospitals are first and foremost hospitals. They are not light, small footprint medical support facilities. Because they are hospitals with resuscitative medical and surgical care, and selected specialty care, they bring a breadth and depth of medical support capability and capacity to the force commander not otherwise available in smaller, more mobile medical support facilities.
It wasn’t until May that the Fleet Hospital received an order to scale down to a 100-bed Fleet Hospital, and in July, the Fleet Hospital were ordered to stand down and re-deploy back to their peace-time/parent commands.
“Our first group set up the EMF on a vacant lot next to the flight line and by mid-deployment we had built the 250-bed fleet hospital in tent city,” said retired Hospital Corpsman Senior Chief Timothy D. Stewart, who was assigned to Inpatient Services as the ward leading chief petty officer. “It seems like so long ago, and we probably weren’t prepared for what was to be done. My fellow corpsmen drove stakes and erected a quality structure and cared for our wounded warriors to the best of their abilities. It was a pleasure to serve with them as they did all the hard stuff.”
Stewart noted that the incoming patients were handled by 78 hospital corpsmen, divided into seven wards with each working a port to starboard (12 hours on, 12 hours off) shift nearly the entire time deployed in 2003. “I was extremely proud of how well my corpsmen completed their duties. We received accolades from the Soldiers and Marines we were treating,” he said.
FH8 was staffed by doctors, nurses, hospital corpsmen, support staff and even Seabees. Under the command of Capt. Pat Kelly, the unit’s commanding officer, FH8 recorded a number of firsts such as being the first fleet hospital to transport patients to and from the flight line working in tandem with the Air Force’s mobile aeromedical staging facility into the hospital structure; first field unit to use the mental health department’s new evaluation and intervention process to screen for early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder; even behind the scene providing support to those providing support with information management (IM) personnel building the first successful local area network for fleet hospital.
Jackson attests to the mettle and resolve of the fleet hospital staff to deal with the influx of incoming injured from the battlefield.
“I cannot recall a time in my life when I’ve been more proud of the Navy and being a corpsman. Having such an outstanding team to work with inspired me beyond words. Watching my corpsmen perform flawlessly and without complaint, often working long hours without a break, sometimes with no end in sight, literally brought a tear to my eye,” said Jackson.
Jackson also came away with high regard for the rest of the medical team at the fleet hospital.
“Seeing some of the ‘miracles’ performed by our surgeons and nurses was truly memorable. They handled facial reconstructions, avulsed limbs, severe eye injuries and more. And watching our junior corpsmen step up to effectively and efficiently handle the support challenge turned them quickly into seasoned professionals,” Jackson said.
Adm. Gregory G. Johnson, Commander, U.S. Forces Europe, along with other notable officials such as Honorable George L. Argyros, United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Spain and Principality of Andorra, commended the staff for their ‘outstanding performance during Operation Iraqi Freedom.’
“Responding selflessly to the call to deploy in support of the U.S. military action in Iraq, the staff of Fleet Hospital 8 rapidly established a 116-bed Expeditionary Medical Facility, followed by a 250-bed Fleet Hospital at Naval Station Rota, Spain. Fleet Hospital provided a haven of healing and rest for injured and ill service members evacuated from the U.S. Central Command area of operations,” wrote Johnson, adding that in a period lasting less than three months, the staff of Fleet Hospital provided care to more than 500 U.S. military men and women, and performed more than 140 operations. “In the course of these activities, the Fleet Hospital developed a reputation for compassion, competent caring.”
“As the Fleet Hospital begins its redeployment, I want to take this opportunity to personally thank you for your faultless and unfailing service to the men and women of the armed services. By your example, you have superbly demonstrated the commitment and professionalism of the Navy Medical Department. You should be justifiably proud of your accomplishments and the service you have performed for the nation,” Johnson sent.
Fleet Hospital (FH) 8 was staffed with more than 550 officers and Sailors from 16 commands along with Fleet Hospital Bremerton, and received the Meritorious Unit Commendation award for its 2003 deployment to Rota, Spain.
“Your unit’s professionalism and “can do” attitude was truly inspiring. It was clearly evident that you, and your staff, are doing everything possible to meet, and exceed, the medical requirements of our troops,” wrote the Honorable George L. Argyros to Capt. Kelly.
The primary mission of the Fleet Hospital is to provide standardized, modular, flexible combat service support medical/dental capabilities in an advance base environment. It supports the theater Commander, Joint Task Force Commanders, Marine Corps Air-Ground Task Forces, Naval Amphibious Task Force units, and forward elements of Navy, Army, and Air Force units deployed ashore.
The secondary mission is to provide health service support for use by United States government agencies involved in disaster or humanitarian relief or limited humanitarian care incident to these missions or peacetime operations.
Fleet Hospitals accomplish four objectives; Provide resuscitative medical care to maximize the return-to-duty of personnel, thus minimizing manpower replacement requirements; Provide a rapidly deployable Navy Medicine` asset at any global location to support deployed forces and combat operations; Provide hospital beds required to augment outside continental United States (OCONUS) medical facilities; Reduce aeromedical evacuation (AE) and subsequent troop replacement requirements.
Each hospital is designed and outfitted to be assembled by the Fleet Hospital staff and to be fully operational in 10 days, following site preparation and transport of components and personnel and are essentially self-sustaining facilities, except for the provision of logistics and other base support needs from the theater commanding officer or task force commander.
Fleet Hospitals offer a complete range of surgical specialties: general, thoracic, urology, gynecology, orthopedics, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, anesthesiology, oral surgery, and general dentistry. Dental capabilities and specialty services are not part of the EMF’s, but can be incorporated if the mission requirements exist. Medical specialties include internal medicine, general practice, family practice, emergency medicine, dermatology, psychiatry, anesthesiology, neurology, radiology, pathology, and preventive medicine. Clinical support services include: casualty receiving and triage, laboratory, radiology, (limited) blood banking, operating rooms, post-operative recovery, patient beds, pharmacy, and central sterile supply. Fleet Hospitals have a fully operational laboratory and can provide some of the same laboratory functions as a large hospital. Each operating room has two tables. Patient beds are designated as either intensive, or intermediate. The number of operating room tables and bed types varies with Fleet Hospital bed size.
Press Release, July 30, 2013; Image: NHB