Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Doctor heads to combat duty

Ketchum man deployed with Marines to Iraq

Express Staff Writer

Lt. Ryan Frieder poses outside the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, where the young military doctor began his pay back to the Navy for a scholarship he received to go to medical school. Courtesy photo

Adulthood can hand a person awesome responsibilities. In the case of 1993 Wood River High School graduate Lt. Ryan Frieder, 29, the New Year means being responsible for the lives of both U.S. Marines and Iraqis who may succumb to combat injuries in Fallujah, Iraq.

Initially scheduled to deploy in March, Frieder, a Navy doctor and 2002 graduate of the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine in Phoenix, will be joining the 3rd Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment. The battalion was called up to help provide security during Iraq's first post-Saddam Hussein election scheduled for Jan. 30.

"They bumped us up for the elections," Frieder said. "We're part of the increased numbers they're trying to get over there."

What led to Frieder's commitment to military service was a fateful decision made in 1998. Rather than try to hit his parents up for medical school tuition after graduating from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Frieder got a scholarship from the U.S. Navy.

"At the time I made the decision I didn't think about my duty or serving my country," Frieder said. "It's something I've thought about a lot lately."

The program, which exacts a year of military service for every year of school paid, is similar to one Frieder's father, a dentist, employed to pay for his own medical training in the Vietnam War era. Frieder's father treated patients with facial injuries incurred in combat.

"We are technically non-combatants," Frieder said, describing his duty while working for the Marine Corps. His job is to supervise some 60 enlisted Navy corpsmen, who, like Army medics, tend to ailing troops on the front lines. He'll also train Marines in basic First Aid. "I'm dedicated to what I do, but these kids ... it's beyond words. They're on the front lines every day. They volunteered to do this. To have them out there that makes my job 1,000 times easier."

Frieder said the information he has gotten from his medical colleagues who have returned from Iraq is that there have been fewer U.S. casualties because of the protective gear, including flack jackets and Kevlar helmets. However, he does feel some trepidation about being sent into a combat zone again and he hopes the forward ambulances are well armored.

Frieder personally handled combat injuries in Haiti during the riots surrounding the departure of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. His unit was in Haiti from March until June.

Despite some on the ground training, Frieder said that much of his view of combat injuries has come from photographs taken by military doctors returning from Iraq.

"I've seen a lot of pictures of injured Iraqi and U.S. military personnel," he said. "Amputations, broken bones ... shrapnel from roadside bombs that have damaged eye sight."

Frieder has been preparing since June for deployment to Iraq at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the key Marine Corps base that maintains combat ready units for expeditionary deployment.

"We're scheduled to take over for one of the units that did the Fallujah offensive in November," Frieder said.

Despite the drawbacks of deployment that accompany the commitment of enlisted military service, like missing the comforts of home and the risks of combat, Frieder said he feels a close kinship with his fellow servicemen and women.

"I am proud to be serving my country," he said, adding that as a medical officer he believes combat duty is a true test of one's commitment to the medical profession ... "especially for people who don't believe in the war."

Frieder said he expects that his work will involve treating Iraqi civilians as well as military personnel. "As (medical staff) we're not there to kill anybody. It is inevitable that a majority of our patients are going to be locals."

Frieder, who is planning to be an anesthesiologist, still has his medical residency to look forward to upon completion of his military service. Therefore, he will not perform surgery in the field himself. Instead, he will perform triage and make decisions about who can be treated by the Navy corpsmen and who needs to be flown by helicopter for more advanced care.

"The most I would do is extend wounds to clean and irrigate with sterile fluids," Frieder said.

He will also insert chest tubes to prevent lungs from collapsing and intubate patients to facilitate breathing.

"It's a trial by fire, but once you have the patient stabilized, you have a lot of help," he said.

Frieder added that he is glad that he has had the chance to be part of a military planning team as one of the top personnel responsible for the health of some 1,150 soldiers.

Frieder, who said he plans to complete all four years of his military service before completing his medical residency, is scheduled to be in Iraq from seven to nine months.

"I have some fear and anxiety and most of that has to do with not knowing what my surroundings are going to be like," he said, sharing a common jab at the Marine Corps reputation for unpredictability and the slogan Semper Fidelis. "It's called Semper Gumbi, always flexible. Working with the Marine Corps you definitely learn to be flexible."

Frieder will spend most of his time in Iraq at the rear manning radios and telephones, communicating with the field medics, hoping nothing happens but ready if something does. He said he expects to be called into the field on humanitarian missions and is thankful for the training he has received, and said it is really the enlisted Marines on patrols who daily put themselves in harm's way.

"The Marine Corps has spent what seems to be a fortune on the best medical training and equipment," he said. "It's good to know the people you're working for support you."

Frieder said he also has some local support. He is taking a few extra pairs of lenses he received from family friend, John Dondero of the Ketchum-based goggle company ESS or Eye Safety Systems. The company recently signed a contract with the Marine Corps for ESS goggles that have thick high impact polycarbonate lenses.

"The lenses have definitely protected people from shrapnel wounds," Frieder said.

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