On our first night in Iraq, the unit we were relieving had a boxing match. A visual paradox of bright lights against the pitch black of the desert around us. The armed guards above and around us watched silently outward as the crowd focused intently on the ring. It felt like an underground blood sport on a different planet. All sorts of military personnel cheering and shouting at the two combatants. The only thing missing was fists full of dollars and extraterrestrial bookies taking bets.

As I left the match early I was stopped by the command staff. As we were speaking a helo arrived inbound. It wasn’t visible against the glare of the lights, but there was no doubt it was there. The hospital commander, COL Haile, said it was a trauma from a rollover. I asked if it would be ok to watch the ER team work and he said of course. Myself, an E-4 and the COL, LTC (now COL) Wisdom, and CSM Conklin went into the ER. It was only yards away from the boxing ring.

I was worried I would be squeamish around blood and the sort but I found myself more focused on what the team was doing and going over in my head what I would do. From the moment the patient arrived through the trauma doors, they sprung on him. Taking report from the flight medic, cutting off his clothes to expose his wounds, taking vitals, checking him head to toe, gaining IV access, calling in radiology for C-spine X-rays, and to rule out other fractures. It all happened within minutes. Regardless of my apprehensions, I was beyond familiar with the process.