MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Doctor volunteers for third Iraq tour
By Staff Sgt. Barbara Harbison, 108ARW/PA
Ask Col. William “Buck” Dodson to describe his job while
deployed as commander of the 447th Expedition¬ary Medical Support
Hospital at Sather Air Base in Baghdad, Iraq and he will tell you he
was a young Col. Potter, referring to the charac¬ter in the television
And like the television show charac¬ter, Col. Dodson oversaw a staff
of 36 personnel who administered to the medi¬cal needs of all the
branches of the American military, Iraqi detainees and civilians.
Dodson volunteered to go to the Operation Iraqi Freedom theater for
his third, and longest, deployment over the Thanksgiving, Christmas
and New Years holidays because that was the hardest time frame to get
volunteers. Why did he volunteer to go again? “We need volunteers
now more than ever, because of the increasing number of casualties,”
Col. Dodson checks an Iraqi child's respiratory response at the Civil
Military Operation Center. Photo courtesy Col. William Dodson, 108ARW/MG.
Along with members from the Pennsylvania Air Guard, the hospital was
home to Master Sgt. Patty Hughes of the 177th Fighter Wing who was the
Public Health NCOIC. She led the N.J. contingent in painting a state
flag on the mortar blast protection wall.
His job encompassed a number of areas including seeing patients in the
emergency room, assisting with surgery in the operating room and caring
for Iraqi civilians in the Civil Military Operation Center.
Some of the hospital’s Iraqi patients were civilians who were
shot by insurgents because their relatives where in government or the
The free clinic was constructed and run by U.S. Army civil affairs units
and open three days a week in the afternoons. There, staff saw mostly
minor infections and trauma come to their “doors.” “We
had a neck tumor, an extra large hernia and two severe fractures that
required surgery,” said the doctor. He noted that about half of
the patients were children. Col. Dodson feels that the Iraqi citizens,
who came to the clinic because they couldn’t be helped by the
Iraqi medical system, were happy that we [the Americans] were helping.
He added that at times they did work with Iraqi doctors who would come
to the American hospital to help.
Dodson said that some days were harder than others. One
day three members of the base’s EOD team were killed by a vehicle
borne improvised explosive device. In another incident among the injured
patients was a 14-year-old Iraqi boy who later died despite efforts
of the medical team.
While Col. Dodson was commanding the 447th, the first Iraqi Flight Surgeon
School took place. For weeks, the staff taught the Iraqi’s the
effects of flight, altitude and hypoxia (lack of oxygen), on the human
He was also responsible for two detainee health teams that examined
Iraqi prisoners before and after they were interrogated.
Each deployment the doctor has been on has increased in duration, this
one lasting more than 120 days was the longest. He said that this one
also saw a higher rate of casualties, both military and civilian, than
his previous deploy¬ments. But Dodson stated his missions to the
war zones “give me the deepest sense of making a difference.”
Col. Dodson, who is the commander of the 108th Medical Group, also wanted
to compliment the members of the medical group and the 108th as a whole.
“We who are fortunate to deploy could not do it without the people
who are in the unit,” he stated. “They get us ready to go
over and cover our workload while we are gone.