BAGHDAD, Iraq – For Pfc. Jennifer Lee, it was supposed to be a Saturday night with friends.
“We were in our rooms getting ready and there were about five explosions and everyone spread out of the rooms to the bunkers,” the 22-year-old said. “We heard another explosion, but I couldn't get in. It was full, couldn't get in there fast enough and the mortar blew up in front of me.”
Lee was hit in the face, arm and leg.
In the process, she became one of the more than 11,000 soldiers injured since the war with Iraq began in 2003. The speed of combat medical care has progressed to the point where people who would die of similar wounds in the United States are surviving in a tent.
“Some patients that we would actually consider dead, end up doing quite well here,” said Major Max Lee, an emergency medicine specialist with the 332nd Air Force Theater Hospital (search).
When someone gets hurt, Medivac Blackhawk (search) helicopters are often the first ones there to save the injured — Americans, Iraqi police, even the enemy.
“We see Iraqis fighting. You know they are right alongside us. So they are in the fight, too, and they deserve everything we have and we give it all to them, these guys got a lot of heart, they've got a lot of heart,” said Sgt. Matthew Miller, a flight medic.
When the patient is a homicide bomber, a man who was trying to kill Americans, nothing changes inside the helicopter. The goal is to get the patient from the explosion site to a hospital in less than two hours.
The fight to save these soldiers begins in a tent in central Iraq, the first stage of a long route for Americans wounded in action.
After surgery, Lee and other patients are packed up for a 6-hour flight to the U.S. military hospital in Ramstein, Germany. After that they take another flight back to the United States. In Lee's case, she was admitted to Walter Reed hospital in Washington.
Despite her injuries, Lee wants to go back to Iraq.
“There is no bond greater than a military bond,” she said. “There is a closeness that is stronger than any friend in the U.S. and you know that you have to have each other's back, you have to be there for each other. I can't leave them there a whole year.”
Joyce Lee, the soldier’s mother, traveled from California to see her daughter. She knows her daughter wants to return to her unit — and the war.
“I don't want her to, but Jennifer knows that we'll support her whatever decision she makes,” Joyce Lee said.
Click in the video box above to see a series of video reports by Steve Harrigan about the U.S. military's medical system, including a look at how the military treats burn victims.