20 October 2009

Thanks for all the great comments!


I wanted to say thank you for all the great comments I have received about the blog! Since the launch of the book, I have been primarilly blogging at:


If you've missed any posts, you can check there.

Take care!


11 October 2009

I got some very exciting news this week; our book is now available for order!

Here are some quotes from advance readers:

Powerful, thought-provoking and unforgettable, A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq stands alone among accounts of the Iraq war. Unlike other authors, Chris Coppola has chosen to focus on the two issues that transcend all conflict: our mortality and our sense of morality. Writing with poignant honesty, he illuminates the well-worn generalizations of war with trenchant details, recounting stories about American and Iraqi individuals who must bear, as well as care for, the often tragic consequences of combat. You will never again look at the Iraq war – or any war for that matter -- in quite the same way. - Dr. Pauline Chen, transplant surgeon and best-selling author, Final Exam, A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality

Dr. Chen's Book and New York Times Column: http://paulinechen.typepad.com/

“Coppola speaks as a witness to human tragedy—a testimony of two deployments in hell . . . This is a heartbreaking memoir by a hero who would never call himself that . . . essential reading for our time.” —Terry Sanders, two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker, producer/director, Fighting For Life

Terry's film account of military medicine: http://www.fightingforlifethemovie.com/

“War often puts doctors in impossible situations. Dr. Chris Coppola's remarkable account of his experience as a combat surgeon in Iraq throws a whole new light on medicine under fire . . . This is a great read and tribute to the American spirit of generosity." —Dr. Khassan Baiev, president, the International Committee for the Children of Chechnya and author, The Oath: A Surgeon under Fire

Dr. Baiev's account of surgery in wartime Chechnya: http://www.theoathbook.com/home.php

"Compelling, heartwrenching . . . Coppola reveals the true victims of war; the children of Iraq." —Gunnar Swanson, War Kids Relief

More about War Kids Relief: http://warkidsrelief.org/

“With a quick wit, and a fine tongue, Coppola brings a fresh voice to the war.” —Michael Anthony, Iraq veteran and author, Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq

I am very happy for such complimentary feedback, and I would love to hear any and all opinions from others.

03 September 2009

A lot of people have asked my opinion on the recent round of health care reform, and I have to admit I don't have much confidence that we are going to get much done. The way I see it, everyone debating health care has made up their mind before coming to the table, and is shouting their opinion so loudly, they can't hear the other side.

I see images of people on Medicare, a government health plan saying that government health plans would be an abomination and should not be allowed to exist.


I see citizens holding vigils and protests, and opponents pay no heed or accuse them of greed.


At one protest, an Obama supporter actually bit off a man's finger!


Fortunately, the man's health care was paid for by Medicare.

I honestly don't think all of the shouting will amount to anything, but the truth remains, that is our American way. We debate our country's business in public, and every voice, no matter how stubborn or ornery has an equal right to be heard. I bet we would have a plan in place already if we were in a country where policy could be enacted in secret, but that is not our way.

For my part, what I think we need to decide is if we believe that we citizens have a right to the benefits of health care, or if it is a privilege for those who can afford it. Day after day I take care of children regardless of whether they have insurance or not. Everyone who works in an ER in this country does the same. It's kind of hard to achieve the inalienable right to pursue happiness for ourselves and our children without health. I'll bet most Americans feel this way about themselves and their families. It isn't too much of a leap to listen for a moment and realize that our neighbors feel the same way we do, and we should pull together to make sure no one gets left behind.

17 August 2009

10 August 2009

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq

There's safety in thin patients

Posted: 09 Aug 2009 09:16 AM PDT

As M. and I settled in to enjoy a rainy Sunday morning with the paper, coffee, and twelve friends from the Dunkin family, she stumbled across a "Hey Marge!" story.

(If you don't know the "Hey Marge!" story, it was defined by David Lee Roth as a story on the TV so shocking that it causes one to yell out "Hey Marge!" and call in his wife.)

Apparently, a 500 pound man was arrested in Harris County, Texas, searched several times, but when he arrived at the prison he was discovered to have hidden a 9mm weapon between folds of fat.


It made me feel somewhat thankful that our patients at the combat support hospital in Iraq were too thin to try and get away with such a trick. In fact it was unfortunate that the majority of the Iraqi children we treated were in a state of malnourishment. They often looked years younger than they actually were because of a chronic want for calories.

We had procedures in place to be certain that no patient arrived at the hospital still armed with a weapon. In spite of this level of confidence and safety, our team still performed our double checks and triple checks to ensure that all staff and patients remained safe.

Early on, some of the insurgents we treated were mildly obese, but still nothing compered to the levels of superobesity we are capable of here in the US. I asked the interpreters about this phenomenon and they explained that many of teh insurgents had been active Baathist party members and enjoyed a relatively greater share of riches and feeding.

As the war progressed, and greater numbers of the insurgents turned out to be foreign fighters, this difference in body mass index when compared to Iraqi soldiers and civilians faded away.

I do recall one incident comparable to the skin-fold weapon concealing prisoner, but I experienced it years ago in the US when I was a surgical resident. The ED staff called me in to consult on a school-age girl who whose diagnosis had eluded them. Her mother brought her in because she "smelled funny" and no matter how many times she bathed her daughter, it wouldn't go away. The child was a pretty and friendly girl, but was obese to a level that threatened future health risks if she didn't get some sports and outdoors into her life. There was a smell very much like an abscess, but the child was happy and healthy with no pain or visible signs of infection. My examination of her belly must have been a bit more thorough than the ED resident's because I discovered a remnant of a tuna fish sandwich tucked into a skin fold near her right flank. When the child's mother saw it, she burst out "Is that tuna? I gave that to her over a week ago!" We were all pleased that we had found an explanation, and no serious trouble had been unearthed.

There is beauty in the women Rubens painted, but we have gone far beyond that archetype.


For both health reasons and keeping contraband out of prisons we need to find a happy medium between impossibly anorexic fashion models and superobesity.

Annoyed? I'll try and help!

Posted: 09 Aug 2009 08:33 AM PDT

Hi, Since I'm messing with the blog settings, you might end up getting the posts twice. If you are getting spammed from me, let me know and I'll try to fix it. (By the way, this means I'm officially old and can't figure out the young peoples' latest gadgets and gizmos.)

08 August 2009

Take an online trip of peace

Take an online trip of peace.

Once a coworker at the hospital in Iraq asked me, "Has Public Affairs approved your blog?"

I replied, "No, but there's nothing in there they could reasonably object to."

Shortly after that, I got a message my commander wanted to review my blog. I gathered up everything I had written and delivered it to him.

"Looks good to me" he said, "carry on!"

I heard scattered stories of troops being ordered to shut down their blogs or being disciplined for something they might have posted online. I do realize sometimes our young citizens, in or out of a war zone, post some pretty ridiculous stuff, the kind of pictures and stories that they might just find themselves explaining in a future job interview. But isn't that the spirit of freedom of speech? Our right to speak our minds is not predicated on how smart, stupid, or even outrageous the statement might be. In fact, it is most important to protect the outlandish stuff because as soon as you let one voice be stifled, we are all are in danger.

There are many military blogs I have visited. One of the earliest I read was BlackFive:


which used to give breathtaking accounts of missions from behind the rifle.

You can find a vast variety of over 2400 military blogs (including mine!) at Milblogging.com:


After reading just a few, you quickly realize how every soldier (or soldier's wife back home) has a vibrant story to tell.

I also understand that as a troop, I had willing submitted to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is kind of like the dress code, behavior code, and imposition on every moment of life that I was subject to when I went to a Catholic school. The difference is that the rules in school were strictly defined and interpreted by the brothers, but the UCMJ is a vast mess of contradicting regulations on such scattered minutia such as which side of the belt I was supposed to wear my hospital beeper. For better or worse, it doesn't seem like any one person actually knows all of the UCMJ, so the lawyers in the JAG can swing it whichever way they choose to argue.

For my part, I self-policed very severely and never revealed a patient's name, any interpreter's photo, or any details that could give the enemy an advantage. I suppose we had it easier than WWII troops who had the censors heavy black pen blotting out large portions of their letters.

There is a huge value in having troops on the front line able to communicate their thoughts, dreams and fears directly to the world at large. Lots of people in the US would be surprised at the low opinion many people in the world have of us, and that's just because they don't know us as individuals.


By letting the soldier have a voice, the world can see Americans for who they really are: hopeful people who fulfil their duties even as they miss their families at home.

A recent article described how the Pentagon was considering a complete ban on access to any blogging or social networking sites, even though some leaders understood the importance of maintaining these lines of communication.


While in the military, I attended Air War College, and learned the thinkers in the military realized the strategic importance of conducting Internet communication as a form of soft power. In fact it seemed as if Al Qaida had realized the value of the online channel and was using it as a means of recruitment and propaganda. I learned about Public Diplomacy, a little known and less well understood function of our State Department that aims to communicate to citizens of other nations that the USA is a land of freedom and opportunity. I also learned that it received very poor funding.


There are groups in the world, such as the Saudi Arabian Sakinah Campaign (it means "Tranquility") who scan the web for Al-Qaida activists and engage them in online communication to try and combat their message of intolerance.


Young people around the world look to the Internet for their information about the US. One interesting site I found is Mideast Youth, based in Bahrain, where young adults discuss issues from the Iranian election to the role of the US in the Middle East.


It is important that young Americans join the dialogue, and who better to represent us than our dedicated troops.

A friend in Spain gave me this saying: "Travel plants a seed of peace in the heart of the visitor and the visited." There is no reason that trip of peace can't happen online.

07 August 2009

Moving to a new Blog Site



I am very pleased to announce that I will be publishing a new book, "Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq" with NTI Upstream, Chicago, IL in November, 2009. If you are interested in visiting the new site, please click to:




Best wishes!



06 August 2009

The Tightrope Gets Thinner

The Tightrope Gets Thinner

M. and I were shocked to read a 25 JUL story about how an Iraqi commander ordered the arrest of three US soldiers after they killed three insurgents near Abu Ghraib. I will fully admit that it is impossible to know what happened without actually being there. But after meeting so many of these young, dedicated, professional soldiers who are serving in Iraq, and seeing firsthand the deadly injuries that they suffer, I come down 100% on the side of our US troops who have to make life and death decisions in an instant.
We read that the troops in this event were in convoy when they received contact in the form of small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The troops bravely dismounted, pursued the attackers through an urban environment, and killed three insurgents. Civilians were killed in the gun battle. An Iraqi commander arrived late and ordered the troops arrested.
Here is a link to the story:


Fortunately, the following day Iraq Prime Minister Al-Maliki announced that the commander’s decision was in error and expressed his confidence in the troops and gratitude for their service.
The story is here:


I am pleased to see a general improvement in security in Iraq and fewer deaths each day. Best of all, it gives me hope that the day we get our troops home from Iraq is getting closer. But I think that we have to be very careful as we exit that these troops are not subject to second-guessing or legal action just for defending their lives.
This danger is nothing new. One soldier I know who has served bravely and has stood up to complete the mission on multiple tours to Iraq recently described an incident he experienced, very nearby in Abu Ghraib, four years ago. His troops on patrol were confronted with a vehicle speeding toward them, saw and heard gunfire and had to make a life-and-death decision. Like so many others, they performed professionally, and made the safest and correct decision, but with the full weight of responsibility and conscience. You really should read his report via the link below because it gives a rare perspective into the thoughts of troops on the scene.


Recently, my associate loaned me the book “Warlord, No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy”. It is Marine Lt. Ilario Panano’s own account of how he was accused of murder after killing two insurgents in Iraq in 2004. My wife, son, and I were captivated by the story, and again horrified that one of our troops could be put through such an experience after doing his best to defend his men.
There is an adequate summary on Wikipedia here:


Lt. Pantano’s family started the foundation Defend the Defenders. (I don’t know if they are still active)


As a doctor, I don’t have to look far to find reasons why war is so harmful to the many people young and old who are caught in its grasp. But it is important to remember that even as strong, well-equipped and professional as our troops are, we have to look out for them too and be sure that their dedicated actions are not being second-guessed.

05 August 2009

Finding my way

I’ve spent the first week of my new job going from orientation to orientation. Today was a day-long class on the electronic medical record. It’s like learning a new language. But it’s worth it to be able to leave the paper record behind. This way when a patient comes in with an emergency at midnight, we don’t have to wait until their chart is retrieved from storage. It’s great to be starting my first civilian job, but it’s been an adjustment on many levels. It still feels weird to walk around outside without wearing cover. Even at home, there are little reminders of my former military life. Every night at 2100 the church across the street chimes the hour then plays Taps. I feel the urge to stand at attention when I hear the first few bars.
I still haven’t figured out how to get around the new hospital. On the way back from my computer-based training, I got lost trying to find the surgery office. At least I ended up in the cafeteria. I’m eager to finish this training and get back in the OR. I just hope I can find it!

30 July 2009

New Job!


I wanted to say a quick hello as I start my new job. I've joined the Geisinger Medical Center and I'll be working as a pediatric surgeon at the Janet Weis Children's Hospital in Danville, PA. Admittedly, it's a big change from being a military surgeon on an Air Force Base. I've spent the last month working on my barn and heading out with the boys to go canoeing, camping, 4wheeling, whatever we can do together. So I'm not quite sure what this next step holds for me and my family, but I'm eager to get started. Hope you all are well and having fun.


03 June 2009

Wheelers for the Wounded, Texas

Well, I’ve been in absentia a bit, but here’s a report that is long overdue.
A few weeks back, B. and I participated in the Wheelers for the Wounded event at Hidden Falls Ranch. For those of you who don’t know, Wheelers for the Wounded was created by Jason Havlik, who plans to cross the United States hosting injured service members on off-road vehicle trail rides. The Texas event was hosted by Midnight Four Wheelers, a really amazing club here in San Antonio.
For the event, wounded warriors and their families were bused in from Ft. Sam Houston and Ft. Hood. Food was provided from an old fashioned chuck wagon that stewed up beans and grilled ribs.
There were about 100 rigs taking families out on trail rides. Some took gentle trips on dirt paths while others chose to tackle aggressive climbs up rock faces or through water holes. Our group had a blast. We started through water that was so deep it seeped into the Jeep tub through the doors and drainage holes. It got as high as the seat tops, but luckily the engine kept pulling. I’m glad we didn’t have to stop because we were sharing the creek with a cottonmouth that was swimming the other way.
I little further ahead, I unseated a bead on one tire and had to jack the Jeep up in knee-deep water, but luckily the snake did not make a repeat appearance.
At the top of the mountain by the radio tower we got an amazing view of the Hill Country, and we could see all the other vehicles scurrying through the trails below.
It was amazing to see the great spirit of the soldiers who came out for the ride, some of whom were in wheelchairs. A lot of troops brought their children and it was very rewarding to help them to have a day relaxing with their families.
We fared pretty well on some tough trails, and the only damage we sustained was a broken front axle U-joint. As is usually the fashion, there were plenty of other Jeepers willing to jump in and help get it squared away.

01 May 2009

Military surviving spouses equity act

Hi, I'd like to pass along a message from a friend.

REP Ortiz, of TX has introduced HR775, the Military surviving spouses equity act, to stop decreasing the amount of money that is received by veterans' widows.

Current law acts in this way: Survivors of veterans killed in the war receive funds under the Survivor Benefit Plan, however, if they receive veterans' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, this sum offsets (reduces) the amount of money given to widows and orphans. HR775 would correct this.

Progress on the bill is here: (and you can read the full text)


Here is a letter of support from a variety of veterans' organizations:


I would think this issue was a chip shot, but surprisingly a similar bill, HR1589, failed 2 years ago:


Anyway, look into it, and see if it is something you would support.



(begin quoted message)

Friends & Family,
My apologies if you've received this already or have been invited to "join the cause" on Facebook. This affects a dear friend of mine, she lost her husband in the war two years ago and is raising 3 kids under the age of 10 on her own now - please help me out with this!
We are organizing a letter writing / e-mail campaign to help the widows and widowers who have lost a spouse in the military. We are urging Congress to pass the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act (HR 775) so that widows and widowers can rightfully receive the Survivor Benefit Plan ("SBP" - like an insurance plan) that their spouses paid into during their military career. Currently, there are 54,000 widows and widowers who should be receiving these annuities, but, as a result of the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation ("DIC") they are receiving upon becoming a widow / widower, the government has applied an "offset" and those surviving spouses are not receiving the SBP. This is wrong. The SBP payments should not be offset, they have been paid for by the servicemen and women of the military as a benefit for their families in the event of their death. The House of Representatives has just voted an increase in the Special Survivors Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) and that is encouraging that the widows and widowers are having their voices heard. This will not solve the problem, however, the SBP / DIC offset needs to be eliminated so that these surviving spouses receive all of the funds they are entitled to. Please help by sending an e-mail or a letter to your representatives and even to President Obama (if you'd like to do more, contact me and I have many more politicians we can e-mail) . Thank you for your help, please forward this on to as many people as you can - we can get this fixed!
1. Go to www.house.gov/writerep to get the e-mail or address for your government representatives
2. Copy and paste the text into your letter and send it off
3. Forward this email on to as many people as you can
To write to President Obama:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

or go to: www.whitehouse.gov/contact ================================



Dear Representative ______________,

Thank you for your attention to this very important matter. Although progress is being made, more needs to be done and can be done to support the 54,000 widows and widowers affected by the SBP / DIC offset.

Please pass the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act (HR 775) (and S.535, it’s companion bill in the Senate). This act will eliminate the SBP / DIC offset outright and is the only manner by which to truly address the problem and restore the earned retired pay to surviving spouses of those who paid premiums for it or who paid for it with their lives. Raising the SSIA via a provision in HR 1804 will certainly give some financial relief for the military widows and widowers. However, the increase in the SSIA runs the risk of excluding those not currently affected by SBP / DIC offset.

In order to have the resources to raise their children now, many widows / widowers were forced to elect the "child option" over the "spouse option", effectively eliminating the offset - but only while their children are young. Once their children have reached adulthood, the SBP is terminated altogether, leaving the widow / widower without the SBP for which their military spouse paid premiums during his / her service.

As is often the case, the simplest solution is the right solution - pass the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act (HR 775). We will never be able to restore these families to what they were, but we can ensure they receive the SBP benefit that is rightfully theirs.

Thank you.



(end quoted message)

11 April 2009

A friend sent this to me. It was some help to learn more about Phillip Myers as a man and I wanted to share it with you all. I wish peace and comfort for his family.

(begin quote)

Thank you Chris for sharing about Airmen Myers.

I was going to just share the link to this article, but sometimes links change. I read on one site "it was revealed the 30-year-old had been promoted from Staff Sgt to Tech Sgt just days before his death. He had not known of his promotion."His wife gave permission for the media coverage of his return.

Thank you Tech Sgt Myers,may God be with your family.

(name removed)

Family mourns Hopewell airman slain in Afghanistan
By Reed Williams
Published: April 7, 2009

The mother of an Air Force sergeant whose body was returned from war Sunday said she is glad news media coverage will allow Americans to see how respectfully the military honors its dead.Staff Sgt. Phillip Myers of Hopewell died Saturday from an explosion near Helmand province in Afghanistan. With his family's permission, the military allowed the media to cover the arrival at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the first public return since the Pentagon lifted its 18-year ban on coverage of returning war dead.Myers' mother, Treasa Hamilton of Polkton, N.C., said yesterday that such media coverage will allow Americans to visualize better what is happening overseas."They hear 30 people killed in Iraq -- they've gotten used to it," Hamilton said. "This brings it back to the forefront. They can actually see the soldiers coming home."Myers' wife, Aimee Myers, permitted the coverage because her husband believed in his role overseas and would want the public to witness the dignity with which the war dead are returned home, Hamilton said. Aimee Myers was unavailable for comment."It was all very well done," Hamilton said of Sunday evening's ceremony in Dover. "It was very respectful."Myers, a 30-year-old father of two children, had been scheduled to leave Afghanistan in mid-May and would have been moved to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Hamilton said.She said her son told her last week that he wanted to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery if he were killed, a request he had made previously. She said yesterday that Myers will be buried there but that a date had not been set.Myers was assigned to the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron with the Royal Air Force in Lankenheath, England, a base that is used by the U.S. Air Force.He was a member of an explosive ordnance disposal team, and part of his job was to disarm improvised explosive devices, his mother said. She said she didn't know whether he had been trying to disarm the IED that killed him."It took a lot of courage and nerves of steel, because he was constantly handling explosives and on the lookout for explosives," Hamilton said.She said Myers had served in Iraq and Kuwait, as well as in Afghanistan, and that he had conducted bomb sweeps in Washington to protect then-President George W. Bush.Myers attended Hopewell High School and joined the Air Force in 1999, Hamilton said. Relatives described him as a dedicated military man who believed he was protecting his friends, his family and his country.He was especially protective of his children and would make sure his daughter, 5-year-old Dakotah, wouldn't watch TV shows with bad language, family members said.His 2-year-old son, Kaiden, likes to build things with Legos just as his father did when he was little, Hamilton said. Once, Kaiden built a pretend gun. "He said, 'Now I have a gun like Daddy for the bad guys,'" Hamilton said.A ceremony to honor Myers is planned for Thursday in England, Hamilton said. Hopewell Mayor Brenda S. Pelham said the city also would like to have a service for Myers if his family wishes it."My heart just hurts every time I see a young person" killed overseas, Pelham said.Myers is survived by his wife and children, as well as his mother, father, brother and stepfather.

09 April 2009

Be Free


This is just a quick note.

It is a reminder to me as much as to any American.

Be thankful every day for the good fortune we have to be citizens of the USA. Our freedom is the the most valuable asset we have. It is not a luxury, or an item to hide away, it is an action: "Be free". It is a dynamic process, and an ongoing struggle: if we are complacent we will lose it, ceding it to those who would take it from us in exchange for financial gain, isolationism, religious exclusion, xenophobia, or a false sense of protection. The pursuit of happiness is not a static gift, it is a continual chase. We have the right not to happiness itself, but to always pursue it, always striving to make our lives better.

We have this because of the wisdom of our forebears who set up this country not only in stark opposition to the monarchy and oppression they left behind, but also around a principle of ongoing evolution of our government, agile, adaptable, and able to change to encompass the unforeseen new challenges of each generation.

Take a moment to appreciate soldiers past and present who have defended our way of life and our homeland against outside threats. Our beliefs, government, and way of life have been challenged again and again, and young men and women have always answered the call to give of their every effort in defense, at great personal sacrifice, even up to the point of dying for our country. That is a very humbling tribute to how important the soldier values our nation.

So live each day remembering that whatever else you are, you are also an American. In fact, your variety and uniqueness is part of what makes us the USA.

Thank a soldier.

Support a soldier's spouse.

Assist an injured veteran.

Hire a veteran.

Honor the memories and memorials of fallen soldiers.

Keep your neighbors working by buying American; you have a choice.

Speak out and exercise your free speech.

Protect those who are weak and small in number; do not watch them be threatened.

Obey all the laws, and fight to have the stupid ones struck down.

Get involved in local government.

Keep our communities safe for children.

Look out for your neighbors.

Be generous to our nation's poor; support programs that would elevate them from poverty.

Be compassionate to the prisoner; support programs that prevent crime and rehabilitate.

Serve on jury duty.

We all have an immigrant ancestor; recognize growth and innovation in new immigrants.

Remember we must be a good global neighbor, both as an example, and as a supporting friend.

Treasure the wide and varied paradise of parks and natural territories in our nation.

Plan to save and provide for your own future and your children's future.

Do not begrudge support of the elderly and students who do not have resources.

Pursue happiness.

Love life.

Be free.

06 April 2009

Remember Phillip

From the perspective of our little world in Texas, this weekend was easy. Saturday was a lazy day of working around the house, watching the kids run around the living room, and then after kicking them out of the house, watching them run around the back yard. Had a few calls from the hospital, but the residents were doing such a good job, all I had to do was tell them to keep up with their plans, and call me if there were unexpected changes in course. Sunday was smooth too. After checking in with my team, I competed in a fencing tournament and took 8th place out of 20. Not bad considering that 18 of them were college students! Tonight I sit down to work and I read about SSgt. Phillip A. Myers. While my family and I were relaxing at home and enjoying the blessings of liberty, he was killed by a roadside bomb near Helmand, Afghanistan, as he served faithfully to defend our way of life. He was 30 years old. He was from Hopewell, VA. He was stationed with the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron in Lakenheath, England. Here is a picture of SSG Myers as he received the Bronze Star from LG Robert Bishop Jr.

I don't know if he had a family or children. The articles about him don't say; they describe how he is the first troop the press has been allowed to film since Pres. Obama and SECDEF Gates have lifted the ban on media coverage of those killed in war.
I thank him for his service and his sacrifice. I hope those who survive him in his unit and at home can find peace. I didn't know him, but I will remember him.

29 March 2009

A video from the AFTH, summer '07


Here is a video produced by a member of the team at the hospital in Iraq.


The author is Matt Blonde, a respiratory therapist and member of the critical care air transport team.

I think the video is incredible because it shows the journey into and back out of the hospital, step by step for an injured troop. What is amazing to see is how many different dedicated people have a hand in the care of each and every patient.

I wasn't at the hospital when this was shot; I arrived shortly after when the tent hospital was closed and the steel hospital was up and running, but I recognize many colleagues.

If you are interested, hope you appreciate the perspective.

26 March 2009

Pictures of my drive shaft

Sorry, I just couldn't resist putting this up!

Last night (until 0200!) I spent a couple of hours under my Jeep installing a new drive shaft. It isn't what I usually blog about, but I put up a step by step of my install here:


That forum is a jeep discussion board where I have learned a lot about how to keep my new all-consuming habit of Jeeping going.

Here is a pic of the new drive shaft:

front drive shaft

and if you can't see it above, the address is here:


That's a neat picture because you can see the big rolling trunk I took to Iraq twice in front of the Jeep.

Anyway, the step by step install has lots of interesting details, if that sort of thing interests you. If you know much about vehicles, you will quickly see that I am a rank amateur, but that doesn't stop me!

I think it is part of the psyche of a surgeon to believe that he or she can do anything better than anyone else! Why else would we dare to cut a person open? If we believed that someone else could do it better, it is just a matter of conscience: we shouldn't do the operation; we should call it off and get the best to do it.

Unfortunately, that necessary confidence spills over into other areas with out justification, and surgeons often believe they can do anything! That is why you see surgeons crashing $200,000 sailboats, falling off of rock faces, losing money in the stock market, and going down in flames at karate dojos.

I am no different, and I half expect something to fall off my Jeep at any moment as I drive down the highway. In fact, it does trouble me that I had a few extra parts left over when I finished my drive shaft install.

Before I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon, long, long, ago, I wanted to be an engineer. But then high school geometry turned out to be more frustrating than high school biology. I have still kept that love of building things. (And deconstructing them as my parents can attest, after losing a TV and a vacuum cleaner to my curiosity.)

Now the most fun of all is that I can share this love of building things with my sons. We have built rockets, potato cannons, and all sorts of modifications for the Jeep together.

February was a hard month. As March passes by, I have found that time and a little grease on my hands has helped to cleanse the doubts and worries from my mind.

21 March 2009

Come Back Home

I want to share with you a very stirring song that was sent to me recently.

It is "Come Back Home" by Pat McGee.


Pat McGee heads up the Pat McGee Band from Richmond.


Like so many Americans, Pat has been personally affected by the war. Last March his friend and drummer's brother Blake Williams was killed in Iraq when his HMMWV was struck by an IED.


Blake was on a return deployment to Iraq. He was 26 years old at the time of his death.

His loss inspired Pat to write "Come Back Home", and it was used at a memorial service by Blake's unit as they honored the memory of the brothers they lost.

Please check out Pat's song set to a slide show,


and this spring he is playing up and down the east coast so you can see him in person.


06 March 2009

Beautiful watercolors for Soldiers' Angels

I received a wonderful email from a friend the other day. She is an artist from Oklahoma, and we met through my blog while I was deployed.

She participates in Soldiers' Angels


They are an organization with a mind-boggling array of different volunteer services for deployed troops from care packages of baked goodies to specialized laptops for wounded veterans. I guarantee you that you will be amazed by some of the things they do.

While I was in Balad, I saw their work in action. Wounded warriors would receive a backpack with comfortable clothing for the trip home and some comfort items like a Dopp kit and a travel mug. It made a difference for these men and women who either had only dirty uniforms, or no clothing if we had cut it off of them.

My friend who is an artist paints cards for Soldiers' Angels. I haven't seen the other entries being considered for this year's cards, but her watercolors are very beautiful. You can see some here on her blog: just scroll down a bit to the 3 MAR entry.


She interpreted one of my photographs, I think it is this one:

And here is her painting:


I think it is just wonderful and really captures the gentleness of the provider. The photograph (and I'm not positive it is the one she used!) is of my friend M. as he prepared to operate on a little girl who had a bullet lodged at the base of her skull that had damaged her carotid artery. I think the painting evokes perfectly the kindness and compassion of my friend who went out of his way to help this little girl.

So I hope that this painting is one of the entries that gets included in the next bunch of Soldiers' Angels greeting cards!

Take care, be mello, and have fun!


14 February 2009

Project Compassion Portrait of CPT Yllescas

Project Compassion Portrait of CPT Yllescas


(Source: Project Compassion)


I subscribe to the Yllescas Family Blog


And from Dena's latest post I learned about a wonderful organization called Project Compassion. It was founded by artist Kaziah Hancock, who is the daughter of a disabled veteran.

(Source: CNN)


In 2003 she started painting portraits of fallen soldiers as an act of compassion and kindness for their families. Project Compassion has grown to an organization that offers to paint a free portrait at the request of the surviving next of kin of any soldier who dies in the line of duty since 11 SEP 2001. They will provide this for troops killed due to combat, illness, accident, or suicide. They are funded by the donations of generous citizens and they have a coterie of skilled portrait artists who donate their gift.

Rob Yllescas' painting was done by Clancy DeVries who is a Korean War veteran himself.

(Source: Project Compassion)


The surviving next of kin provides a photograph to Project compassion to serve as the basis for the portrait. The pictures can be official military portraits, informal snaps while on duty, or photographs on leave with family. Here is the photograph that Mr. DeVries used to paint the portrait.

(Source: Yllescas Family Blog)


If you have a moment, view some of the 1227 portraits in the galleries of Project Compassion.


You will see faces of love, honor, devotion, loyalty, youth, joy, strength, humor, mischief, and pride. Some are posed in front of the flag, some wave from HMMWVs, and others hold their babies. We know this: all of them gave so much, and the reason our nation is so strong is because it is rich beyond measure with such amazing individuals who continue to be willing to give. They will not be forgotten; we must remember that we owe them a debt that cannot be repaid.

Here is a news story on Project Compassion if you want to read more:


13 February 2009

Air Force firefighters rescue baby camel trapped in manhole

Firefighters rescue baby camel trapped in manhole


Hi friends!

I haven't written in a long time because work has actually picked up. I have been on a pace of 5-7 operations/week That doesn't sound like much compared to my pace of 3/day in fellowship, but for our hospital, is a lot. When I haven't been in the hospital, M. and I have been working steadily to prepare our house to go on the market. The past few years haven't exactly made this the best time to sell a house! But I will be starting a new job in PA this summer, and move we must.

I thought this story was notable because of all the things that are not said in the article, but one can conclude a lot from the fact that AF troops are leaving the base to go out and rescue a trapped camel!

It is a comfort to know that the rescue crew is not needed for troops and is available for animals. Also, the risk of injury must be low if the crew is leaving the base for the purpose of rescuing a camel. The relationship with the local community must be strong if the Iraqis are not afraid of reprisals and are comfortable calling the Americans. All these things sound like improvements.

I have heard many reports that the violence is greatly decreased in Iraq, especially the south. A friend just sent a very encouraging report that commanders on the ground believed this security was permanent and will last even after US troops are pulled out.

At Balad, the surgeons are taking care of far fewer combat wounds. The trauma wounds I have heard about recently are non-intentional burn wounds. The surgeons have tried to conduct some humanitarian outreach just to have a use for the ORs.

All my best wishes to friends that I have not seen in a long time. Take care, be mello, and have fun!