On the stage, seated with a small group of wounded warriors sharing stories of grievous injuries and inspirational recoveries, is an attractive young woman with short and spiked blond hair.When it's her turn to speak, she does so confidently and with a pleasing southern drawl.Tara Dixon introduces herself as an Army Reserve major and a board-certified trauma surgeon with special training to care for burn victims.Dixon got some of her surgical training in Baltimore and some more at the University of Southern California. She spent two tours in Iraq, she explains, one during "the surge" at the end of the Bush administration and another in 2010.At this point, listeners assume Dixon is part of this "Fireside Chat" at the MOAA/NDIA Warrior-Family Symposium in Washington D.C., to give a physician's perspective of the trauma warriors suffer and how, through timely care, they can survive and thrive. There are, after all, so many incredible stories that have already been presented.Watch videos at: http://www.moaa.org/wfs/But Dixon's story is not what we assume. It is so much more revealing about the impact of wartime trauma. Given her burn and trauma training, Dixon was based far forward, "as I like to say that means the guys in the tent … working really hard to take care of our coalition forces as well as our Iraqi allies and occasionally some civilians and bad guys."Surgeons forward, she says, must decide "who needs their leg amputated right away versus risking them bleeding to death (and) hours away from Baghdad or certainly from Germany or any what you would call real medicine. … That was my job, my task and my privilege to make those decisions," she says. U.S. medical forces forward, she assures us, are "incomparable to anything that we have ever done, and certainly better than anybody in the world."That confident tone begins to retreat as Dixon moves on to "some things that I wasn't expecting." For the enemy in Iraq, this is "not a Geneva Convention war." Red crosses on medical tents are targets for mortar rounds and therefore must be removed. "We got bombed a lot," Dixon says.Iraq also was different, she adds, because a guy you ate breakfast with would become "the guy a few hours later you're trying to repair a hole in his heart or liver or to re-sect his bowel." As a stateside surgeon, she says, "I don't know the people who get shot or stabbed or fall off of buildings. They come to me (as) complete strangers. It is a little different to deal with than someone who has been a comrade and a brother."
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org