A flag with a single blue star in the center on a white field surrounded by a red border hangs in the window beside the front door of Kathy Leitsch’s home in Punta Gorda, Fla. A banner on the outside of her house reads: “Welcome Home Kristie Robson , M.D.”
Lt. Cmdr. Kristie Robson , 36, was home with her mom for a few days after serving a six-month tour of duty in Iraq. She served as the senior medical officer at a mobile emergency room located in a U.S. Marine forward operating base at Ubaydi, Iraq, a tiny desert town along the Euphrates River near the Syrian border.
She is a board-certified ER physician who graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. Robson also has undergraduate degrees in biology and philosophy.
Although she has served nine years in the Navy as a doctor in posts all over the world, the Iraqi desert took a little getting used to, she said. Her post over there was with Combat Logistics Battalion 46, dubbed Camp “U-Baby” by the Leathernecks.
“It was a desert environment with very little green,” Robson explained.
Just on the other side of the Euphrates from the town was where the Marines set up shop, protected by a fort built of interconnecting concrete slab walls 16 feet tall. On each corner of the concrete enclosure is a .50-caliber machine gun position. Electronic detection devices are used to further protect Marines at the camp.
“They did everything,” Robson said. “They were responsible for providing water, transporting food, and security. Everything the Marines needed, this unit provided it. This is where the convoys were sent from and the missions originated from.
“My first day in Iraq we had an IED (improvised explosive device) that went off under an MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicle. The worst (damage) was to the front tire that was blown apart,” Robson said. “The rest of the (14-ton) vehicle remained solid.
“If it had been early in the war and an IED had gone off under a Humvee, there could have been all kinds of injuries,” the trauma doctor said. “Marines could have suffered blast injuries, penetrating trauma and burns. In the desert, you would be dealing with heat or cold, too. You’d be handling every type of injury at once.”
A few days later Robson had her first encounter with another deadly desert inhabitant.
“There were lots of poisonous snakes over there. I almost stepped on one shortly after I arrived,” she recalled. “Myself and a corpsman went to get some supplies out of a supply room one night, and I wasn’t using my flashlight. Fortunately, my corpsman had his flashlight operating. He shined it on the sand in front of the door to the supply box. There was a (6-inch) baby pit viper curled up in the sand right where I was going to step.
“I screamed like the girl I am. We went the other way and decided to come back in the morning,'” she added.
During the six months Robson served in Iraq, there was little fighting around her base and few combat injuries.
“We were ready for anything that might come our way. As the senior medical officer, I made sure I trained everyone on my team to respond to an emergency as a team,” she said. “Our team consisted of 18 people — two doctors, a nurse, corpsmen, communication and security Marines. Many of my Marines weren’t professional medical people. In civilian life they were car salesmen, students, train engineers.”
They’d begin training at 7:30 a.m. and spent much of each day working out medical problems just as if there was a badly wounded Marine lying on an operating table in front of them. Their four-bed trauma center with its well-equipped ER is housed in a wooden building inside the encircling concrete protective walls of Camp U-Baby. Outside the ER along the edge of the roof, a sign reads: “Hall of the Emergency” in English and Arabic.
Their small hospital may not look like much, but Robson and her troops dispense first-class medical care. When more sophisticated medical attention is required, an injured Marine is flown to Al Asad Air Base about an hour away.
Robson says proudly, “There were no deaths on my watch.”
She was pretty well confined to her desert base. However, at least on one occasion the Navy doctor was allowed to see what medicine is like in many hospitals in the Middle East.
“When you see what the rest of the world has for hospitals, you thank your lucky stars you live in the United States of America,” she said.
So what do Marines do as they sit corralled in the desert fort without an enemy to fight and waiting for reassignment to some other hot spot?
“We play a lot of volleyball, and I read a lot of books,” she said.
When Robson returns to duty, she will fly to Okinawa, Japan, where she came from before going to Iraq. After finishing her tour of duty in Okinawa, her next duty post is Twentynine Palms, Calif. for two years.
Robson has spent nine years serving as a Navy doctor and plans to make it her career. What she likes best about her job, she says, is that every day she faces a new challenge in the ER. Not only is life interesting on a daily basis, but the Navy picked up the tab for her medical education and she gets to see the world.
“Before my mission in Iraq, I was in Okinawa for a year. I’ve been to San Diego, Calif. for two tours, Pensacola, Oklahoma and Japan,” Robson said with enthusiasm.
“I love it. I treat great people and work with an outstanding staff.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, April 1, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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