DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
WASHINGTON, D. C.
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
Oral History Interview
DSIT AE 024
COL William E. Ethrington
62d Medical Group
Interview Conducted 27 February 1991 at Logistical Base CHARLIE, Northern Province, Saudi Arabia
Interviewer: MAJ Robert B. Honec, III (116th Military History Detachment)
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
7 August 1990 - 15 May 1991
Oral History Interview DSIT AE 024
MAJ HONEC: This is an Operation DESERT STORM/DESERT SHIELD interview. I am MAJ Robert B. Honec of the 116th Military History Detachment. We're [here] today at Log[istical] Base CHARLIE, the 27th of February 91, with the 62d Medical Group commanded by COL Ethrington. Sir, for the record, could you state your full name, Social Security number, unit of assignment and, well, position, unit of assignment and how long you've been in that position please.
COL ETHRINGTON: William E. Ethrington; ***-**-****; Commander, 62d Med[ical] Group. Unit of assignment is HHD, 62d Med Group.
MAJ HONEC: Thank you, sir. Okay, starting from deployment from Washington could you give me a commander's view of how the deployment went, what issues you had to face as a commander, and how you handled those issues, please?
COL ETHRINGTON: We're ... home base is Fort Lewis, Washington. I've got eight units at Fort Lewis, counting my HHD: 47th Combat Support Hospital; and the 423 Clearing Company; the 54th Air Ambulance Detachment; and several smaller detachments.1 We were originally alerted on or about the 7th or 8th, maybe 12th (I can't remember for sure), of August on the TPFDL.2 Six of the units deployed subsequently between September and October. The HHD was taken off of the TPFDL probably about early September, or put on hold status, Squad Nine status it was called, in September probably. I don't remember dates for sure.
One of the major issues was why HHD was non-deploying and the other units of the group were deployed. Actually, it was left there a while with just myself and our air ambulance detachment. Basically assumed command of some ordnance detachments and some ordnance companies as well as some other companies there at Fort Lewis. And then as soon as I did that within about two weeks we came back on the TPFDL and deployed within a week once we came back on the TPFDL. So, one issue was were we training like as we expect to fight? That group didn't deploy while all the units did.
MAJ HONEC: Interesting. Interesting. And also you had some ordnance units under you. What on earth would you do with some ordnance units as a medical group?
COL ETHRINGTON: Command and control them. HHD is a command and control element. Basically command and control is just about anything put under it. It was more of a ... basically what had happened was it was just a flip-flop with me. The 593d [Support Group] had deployed their headquarters, but had left most of their units at Fort Lewis. The actual 593d before deployment probably had about 2,000 people that they commanded. Once they deployed there were only ... there were left battalions with no 0-63 commands. They stayed that way for probably about three months until (and again timeframes I don't remember) ... but once it was seen that the 593d wasn't coming back, and my units had deployed and I was staying, it made sense to give those 0-5 battalion commanders to deal with before they dealt with the 0-7 and 0-9.4 So, some of them were placed under me. Other were put under other 0-6 commands.
I actually ended up deploying four ordnance companies, I believe, in addition to my other units. We got them ready to go, got all the statistical data, got them loaded up on airplanes, ships and actually moved them out.
MAJ HONEC: Good point. I didn't realize a medical group could be used like that. I thought there was a straight alignment separating it.
COL ETHRINGTON: HHD as a command and control can be used to command most anything. I would say anything in the CS/CSS,5 HHD as a medical group can command as well as anybody else.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Did you acquire any National Guard or Army Reserve units while you were--before you were going to deploy? Did any of them come in?
COL ETHRINGTON: No, there were Reserve and Guard units that came to Lewis, but they were picked up and sponsored by other units. Just about the time we were deploying the 50th General Hospital, which is a Reserve unit out of Seattle, came to Fort Lewis or was in the process of coming, but we deployed. And we wouldn't have gotten to sponsor them anyway. It would have been somebody else and they did get sponsored, I think, by one of the--I think the actual sponsor was the 3d Brigade of the 9th I[nfantry] D[ivision].
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Very good. Okay. How did you deploy out? Were you flown by aircraft with your equipment?
COL ETHRINGTON: Yes, HHD is very light in equipment, so you don't have much. HHD was deployed by air completely. We had four airplanes deployed.
MAJ HONEC: Where did you land?
COL ETHRINGTON: We landed at Dammam.
MAJ HONEC: Dhahran International?
COL ETHRINGTON: Dhahran International Airport.6
MAJ HONEC: Okay. And after you got in country you set up at the white house?
COL ETHRINGTON: The white hospital we called it, yes.
MAJ HONEC: White hospital. I'm sorry. Okay. As we already discussed, is there anything about the operation in the very infancy, this would be Phase I (DESERT SHIELD), is there any command issues that you could maybe illuminate for the record on that ... on that ... at the white hospital that perhaps you'd like to add?
COL ETHRINGTON: No, the only ... we came in country on the 19th of November, picked up command of our units on the 1st of December. The major issues then were movement of units from Dammam or Dhahran to their intermediate staging bases or final staging bases, final locations. We didn't know which at that point in time because the plans weren't matured. But, we assumed command.
At that time we had the 5th MASH,7 28th Combat Support Hospital [CSH], which were ... we knew were going to go to the 1st Med Group eventually because the plans had been devised by the 44th Med Brigade. We commanded them primarily because of geographics. We were in Dammam, they were in Dammam, while the 1st Med Group was up in [Assembly Area] PULASKI. It was known that we would relinquish command of them as soon as the op[erations] order was put into effect.
The only command issues of interest were turf battles, political battles having to do with the 85th and 86th Evac[uation] Hospitals, which were eventually resolved with one of them going to ARCENT8 and one of them staying with us. Some messing around with the troops moving and then not moving with the 86th Evac. Those were eventually resolved with the 85th staying and being chopped out to ARCENT and the 86th remaining as a Corps asset and moving up to KKMC.9
Pre-deployment, having to do with the entire group and something I think the Army should look at ...
MAJ HONEC: Yes, sir.
COL ETHRINGTON: And I'm talking Army in total, but particularly with CS/CSS. It had to do with single soldiers. So you have ... the issue would be of single parents. A significant number of boards--chapters--done on single families, single family members just before we came over. I think the Army needs to look at and reconsider our ... at least look at and reconsider the policy on single family members, perhaps even do service members with kids.
MAJ HONEC: These were Chapter 11s, Chapter 13s?
COL ETHRINGTON: No, no, no. Chapter 5A, 63, I think. I don't remember the chapter was that we used to eliminate them. Certainly, I'd prefer that we would bring single family members to war with us since they trained with us and worked with us. There were really no major holes left in the group. Well, that's not true to say. A couple of officers ... they didn't come for pregnancy. But, there were a significant number of soldiers who didn't come either for pregnancy, single parenthood, dual family members ... and it's something that needs to be looked at. I hasten to add for the record, as well as honestly, that I have absolutely nothing against female soldiers whatsoever and I'm not talking about females particularly. My chief nurse is female obviously. My driver is female. The best soldiers I've got, most likely, are females. The real issue I have is that some of the bad ones give the good ones a real bad reputation and put a bad light on the good soldiers that we have. My concern is that, number one, there is a readiness issue. Number two, is it does give the females, particularly the females that are in the units, the good ones, a bad rap. It's not fair to them.
MAJ HONEC: Are there still some cases pending over here of single family ... and their incurring turbulence, say with the agreements that were made?
COL ETHRINGTON: Yes, that's true, but that's the normal course of events I guess. Yes, we've had a fair number of pregnancies over here. I'm probably (and I'm just guessing), but I probably average one a week from the 2,800 people we've got in the group, which is not that bad. Obviously it's an issue of discipline as well, but the impact on the group is not that significant.
We've had a lot of Red Cross messages and family support plans that aren't working. Our family support activities, family support groups back in the rear, are doing a super good job. And I might add that I think that having a good rear detachment commander, probably even an officer, as I do, as a rear detachment commander ... if you're going to do missions and operations the way we're doing this one, you absolutely have got to have a good rear detachment commander. I was fortunate enough, though he doesn't agree with that, to leave my air ambulance detachment in the rear. That's the only unit of my eight that did not come over. MAJ Tim Toomey who is the commander and his first sergeant, SFC Al Potera, have done just a fantastic job with taking care of those kind of problems.
MAJ HONEC: Can you spell his last name, sir?
COL ETHRINGTON: I can spell Toomey--T O O M E Y--but I can't spell Al Potera. You'll have to get that from the S-1. But, they have done an absolutely fantastic job of taking care of those family support activity things. Of course, for me. That's just for me and my HHD and my 423, and the 73d Vet[erinary] Detachment. The three units I've got under me over here that are from Fort Lewis. But, they do a fantastic job of taking care of the 47th CSH and the other units that are back there. I might add again also for the record, and in reality, that a good commander's wife or a battalion commander's wife ... or the family support activities is pretty much overwhelmed. My wife, I think, has done a super job, fantastic job, but she would be more than just overwhelmed if it wouldn't be for the rear detachment commander. The number of phone calls that my wife gets on a given day is probably numbers between 15 and 20 and she's only taking the cases that the unit members have not already handled in one way or another or she's taking calls to go to interviews or arrange for other interviews. The unit commanders, the 43d--I'm sorry--the 423--company commander's wife, and the 47th CSH family support group, take care of a great majority of the problems. But, the number that get up to the support group at the group level is still tremendous.
MAJ HONEC: Good point. That was brought out before with other commanders like yourself. The Reserve units that you have weren't aligned to go to war with you in ...
COL ETHRINGTON: No.
MAJ HONEC: Or at ...
COL ETHRINGTON: What classification are we talking here?
MAJ HONEC: Secret.
COL ETHRINGTON: Okay. [SENTENCE DELETED THAT INDICATES HIS ALIGNMENT WAS NOT FOR SOUTHWEST ASIA.] None of the units that are working for me trained with me, had affiliations with me. No association whatsoever with me before coming over here.
MAJ HONEC: How did the staff ... in your view, how did your staff pull together? How long did it take them to start working together?
COL ETHRINGTON: My staff?
MAJ HONEC: Well, not the staff. I meant, of those units that you had ... new people that you hadn't worked with before, how long did it take? Was it a fairly short period or was it a fairly long period, little bit, medium or ... ?
COL ETHRINGTON: You're asking about several things here.
MAJ HONEC: Yes, sir.
COL ETHRINGTON: Luckily we had from November the--well, December the 1st to January he 16th to get people working together and we needed that time. We needed that time for my staff to get squared away itself, for the units to get squared away, and for myself to be able to do a good command and control job. We could have done it quicker. If the war had come quicker, we could have done it quicker. We went at a fast pace.
Our major problem was not the unit itself. Our problem was for every unit I had except for the 86th Evac Hospital, which came with their own set of DEPMEDS10 ... was getting the unit in country, getting its equipment to them, and then getting the equipment and them to the right place. Essentially four evac hospitals had to be pieced together. The people, their DEPMEDS equipment from Europe, or their ship-short package the States with their Ps and Ds from the States, and with their home station equipment. It was just a logistical and transportation nightmare to get all that done. And it didn't end. In fact, it didn't end until G-Day. We still have home station equipment that's somewhere either at port in Jacksonville, [Florida], or on board ship, or on the Port of Dammam that we don't have yet. It was a significant problem with the 93d Evac Hospital. There were seven milvans that were lost. Their comm[unications] equipment, their NBC equipment, their patient admin[istration] equipment were all on those seven milvans and we've had to recoup ...
MAJ HONEC: Cross-level?
COL ETHRINGTON: Cross-level and other units requisition to get stuff that was in those seven milvans. And other units had the same kind of problems, the 44th Evac up at KKMC had that same problem, 15th Evac had that same ... everybody's had that same problem. But it was just ... the Army got caught in a war where we didn't expect to have a war. And really got caught in an equipping program that had not been completed. So, it was just ... I guess you could say it was avoidable, but I don't really see how given all of the circumstances. But, there was a real problem for us and my log[istical] section has done a fantastic job of getting equipment and supplies in for all of the units to get them all up and running by G-Day.
MAJ HONEC: Great. Is there any other issues from deployment to Dhahran or Dammam that perhaps ... besides losing equipment? What sort of channels are available to you right now here at Log Base CHARLIE to try and run down that equipment? I guess that's more a [S]-4 question of ... to try to find that equipment that's missing?
COL ETHRINGTON: The hospitals themselves have pretty much pulled out of Dammam. They have one or two people per unit down there that are still looking for or tracking milvans, supplies. Basically we had to leave people in Dammam much longer than we would have liked to in order to get that. The big issue has been transportation.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Expand on that.
COL ETHRINGTON: The big issue is transportation. The Academy [of Health Sciences], under duress I'm sure, is taking transporting assets out of medical units until there's just none left, saying that it would come out of corps assets. And corps assets were not available because being used for dozens of other things and even though ... even though medical is supposed to have a higher priority than many other items, it doesn't materialize. The hospitals that we had to move from KKMC up here virtually moved themselves by dolly and five-ton and caused extreme anxiety on my part, exposed a lot of people to accidents, unnecessarily stretched out the movement time considerably.
MAJ HONEC: You had to do several hundred serials ... several serials evidently to ...
COL ETHRINGTON: Numerous serials with five-tons and dollies and even then, of course, you couldn't move everything because you had stuff in 40-foot milvans and had some things that couldn't be dollied and had to be put on S&Ps. My folks, my S-4 folks, my S-3 folks, and the hospital folks had to go out and beg, borrow and steal S&Ps and tractors to move stuff.
The book answer is that all got done. But the reality is that time that should have been spent doing other
things--getting hospitals more ready, getting the group more ready--was spent out chasing down transportation assets and trying to get the hospital moved and get the basic things done that should have been done routinely and automatically. In other words, we had to put extraordinary effort into doing things that should have been done routinely. It shouldn't happen that way.
So, where I would have liked to have been putting an extraordinary effort into getting things up and running, I was putting an extraordinary effort into getting things here. It was a significant problem.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. As has been said before in other units that I have gone to interview in, the January 15th deadline did not really offer a specific time that we would be going to war, that sort of thing. It was pretty much depending upon how the Iraqis, if they attacked earlier than that, how they would have acted. And then your mission would have changed, I understand. Would you describe the kind of turbulence, the day-to-day not knowing when we would actually go to war, how it impacted on your command, your operations?
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, on 15 January we had probably (and again I can't remember for sure), but I think we had one hospital ready to go to war. That was the 86th, which we moved out of KKMC or actually out of King Fahd [Military City] into KKMC in late December or early January. So, they were ready to go to war on the 15th of January. Nobody else was. In fact, I don't think probably anybody else even had DEPMEDS at that time. One of the issues you asked about a while ago was the inability to manage arrival of equipment and personnel at the same time. The 109th Evac Hospital had their main body here probably for a full month before their DEPMEDS equipment arrived. Of course, they were pretty much useless without their equipment. But ... on 15 January we had one hospital ready to go and we had others in country with the DEPMEDS people screwing around trying to get their equipment available for them. And it was a slow process. During this timeframe VII Corps began to get priority not only for DEPMEDS but for transportation assets out of ARCENT. But, it was a real, real mess. We actually got all five of them up probably on the 24th of February.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. This is here in Log Base CHARLIE that they came on line, actually positioned out in their final ... in their final position, if you will, for now and then finally got together ... they're all DEPMEDS or under tentage?
COL ETHRINGTON: They're all under temper tents or the DEPMEDS, yes. We have two at KKMC, 44th and 86th; and we have three up here, two at CHARLIE and one at Rafha
MAJ HONEC: Okay. During the winter time ... of course, when you arrived back in the middle or the ending or the waning of the heat, how did that effect your operations, the environmental conditions?
COL ETHRINGTON: In Dammam it didn't have much impact because we weren't in the field that much. The two battalions that I had, the 36th and the 56th. The 56th had been here for quite some time, since late September I think. The 36th came in literally just about the same time I did. They both got good compounds in Dammam and there was no problem.
The weather problems began to hit us when we got to KKMC, the rain and the cold and the problems with the equipment and people getting in at the same time. We had to have some people sleep on the ground and rain, I think almost always either under tentage or on the bus, but we did have some real problems with the environment, yes. The cold and the rain which even though I guess you could say we should have expected it, because it was in all the briefings, but it did take us by surprise being cold and wet in the desert.
As far as becoming operational the weather had only minimal impact and that was simply that ... particularly for one or two of the hospitals, two I believe, the 15th and ... probably just one, the 15th because we couldn't get the dollies, the milvans, the S&Ps into the area where the 15th was set up with its sleeping quarters because of the mud for one day or two days. We had to wait one or two days to get the implement into them. Other than that as far as the weather impacting operations, it was fairly minimal. We had hospitals flooded out. The 86th at KKMC got flooded once or twice, but again, they still cared for patients either under water or in the mud.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Perhaps we could go back and talk about (for the record) talk about some innovations and some interface ... start with the interface of this Saudi Arabian ... Phase I being DESERT SHIELD, as opposed to DESERT STORM. Some of those particular things that you saw that perhaps you could highlight for us in the Saudi nationals--dealing with Saudi nationals, dealing with the desert environment and also dealing with trying to coordinate with tri-services, the Army, Air Force ... the Air Force and Navy mainly, if there's something perhaps in there.
COL ETHRINGTON: The biggest issue, the biggest thing we did in that way is an Army issue, Army thing, not a medical. We just had a lot of purchasing that had to be done. In perspective if you look at it it was probably because we deployed with TOE units and for the first three months or so, two months, we're really living in a TDA11 world and didn't have the equipment to do that. So we went out and bought a fair amount of either equipment or supplies to be able to survive while we were living basically in a peace time environment, getting ready to go to war. So, that was one. Number two, was an interface with the Saudis.
MAJ HONEC: And that was handled by the ARCENT contracts?
COL ETHRINGTON: At corps, ARCENT. Everybody did basically the same thing. The interface with Saudi medical types was done primarily by two facilities that I had. The 28th early on in Dammam was located fairly close to a Saudi hospital at KFIA, King Fahd Military City ... International ...
MAJ HONEC: International Airport?
COL ETHRINGTON: No, not the International Airport. The 86th was out there. The King Fahd Military City, I think it was, and there was a military hospital there and the 28th did a lot of work with them. Likewise with ARAMCO12 at that time. When we moved up here, the 86th was at KKMC right next door to the military--Saudi military--hospital there and got to know some of the military Saudi staff at that time. Eventually the 251st Evac Hospital, the ARCENT asset moved into the fixed facility and was running the fixed facility.
So, interface with the Navy and Air Force. Navy primarily was because they had to fill the 5th Fleet Hospital. We evac'd some patients to the fleet hospital, as well as [USNS] Mercy and [USNS] Comfort. And we interfaced with them primarily through treatment facilities. Interface with the Air Force has been primarily through their Mass Evac[uation] and Cas[ualty] Evac business. We haven't interfaced with them with any treatment facilities other than MassEvac and CasEvac.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Now, moving forward to ... from Phase I to Phase II, the DESERT STORM--actually to Phase III now with the DESERT STORM offensive operations. How is it different now than it was back in our defensive role? How have your operations changed now and what issues are you ... command issues are you faced with?
COL ETHRINGTON: The biggest difference is obviously the defense role prior to 15 January--we had virtually no combat casualties and didn't basically have to worry about that. Our role was primarily to get ready for the offensive side. 15 January or 16 January to G-Day we had significant patient play from vehicle accidents, from aircraft accidents and accidental discharges.
MAJ HONEC: Non-battle?
COL ETHRINGTON: Non-battle injuries, yes. And diseases. Obviously after G-Day, four days ago, we've had significant patient play with accidents and injuries still, but now we're getting the combat casualties. Luckily a fair number of them--in fact, I would say so far, the majority of them--have been EPWs13 rather than U.S. troops, but we are getting U.S. troops.
MAJ HONEC: Talking about the ... I'm glad you raised the issue about the Iraqis. What sorts of care do you have to give them? What sorts of security do you have to do with EPWs?
COL ETHRINGTON: EPWs by the Geneva Convention get the same care that U.S. soldiers get based on medical need, not on nationality or status. We have to have M[ilitary] P[olice] support in the transport of EPWs as well as MP support during the care of the patient.
MAJ HONEC: Do you have a separate hospital unit set up to handle EPWs as opposed to ... ?
COL ETHRINGTON: No. The corps did not. We utilize all three hospitals for EPWs, again based on medical condition when picked up either by ground or air and the location of the facilities.
MAJ HONEC: So, they occupy the same operating table if they needed it that a U.S. troop would?
COL ETHRINGTON: Yes. The only time that I can foresee that we would have an Iraqi patient or patients treated in a different area of the hospital would be if we had a significant number that needed the same kind of care. Say we had a significant number of Iraqis that needed intermediate care and we could put them all in one ward rather than splitting them up into four wards in order to lower the security problems, we'd do that. But other than that, there's no difference.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Which is a good point. The 62d Med Group, for the record, has got an area support role as opposed to the 1st Medical Group having the actual offensive support. As part of the offense they go forward and establish the hospitals. That sort of thing has ... that sort of mission is much different. But, why the tailoring? In your view, what was the ... ?
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, first of all, the 62d Group doesn't just have an area support role. That would connoted that we just took care of patients from right around here. We have a direct support role of divisions, in this case, the 101st Airborne where we're taking patients directly from their clearing station into our aircraft, our facilities, as well as getting patients from the 1st Med Group medivac. We are taking patients out of any CSH or MASH that's operational in the forward area. To date the only facility that's operational in the forward area is an FST of the 5th MASH and 40 beds of the 28th Combat Support Hospital.
MAJ HONEC: FST, sir, is ...
COL ETHRINGTON: Forward surgical team.
MAJ HONEC: Surgical team. Thank you.
COL ETHRINGTON: So, as other facilities get operational up there, they will get the patient, do the resuscitive surgery or whatever needs to be done, and then they'll be backpacked to us. We are not in an area support role. We're in direct support of the divisions, in some cases, and then of course the support of the 1st Med Group to get patients out of those facilities so they can remain mobile and move with the divisions. I don't know why the war plan was devised as is. The brigade has pretty well devised the medical support plan to the war plan by the time I got here.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Thank you for the clarification. I appreciate that. Other than that, in the ... now that, of course, bringing the time forward to Phase III and into a yet-defined Phase IV, what will the 62d do from now onward until we start retrograde operations or whatever operations that we're going to do, that is, you will sit in place?
COL ETHRINGTON: The 62d is going to continue to take patients. Right now we're taking patients primarily and totally ... even totally by Army aircraft. But, at some point in time, either at one of the log bases there will be air strips open and we will begin to receive patients by Air Force aircraft, which makes time-wise, distance-wise, all of our facilities are still well within the area of operations. Should we get to the point where either one or more of our facilities are out of the operations because of distance or time, then we'll close that one down and move it to where it would be best utilized should time allow.
If the war is over very quickly, then it would be unusual if we would move a hospital and try to set it up again with the war over. But, as it is right now, the 62d hospitals are all in good position to receive patients. Should the war move totally east and the Air Force doesn't want to fly back out to Rafha then we would again, time allowing, close down the 93d and move it into position. The 15th and the 109th here at CHARLIE will stay operational here until or unless CHARLIE should close down as a log base. Should CHARLIE close down as a log base we'll close hospitals down and, again, time allowing we'll move them somewhere and set them up.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Now, the log bases being Log Base BRAVO back at King Khalid Military City, which is still there, I understand, as it stands today. That's a possible place back, is it not? You have Log Base ROMEO forward, but that is more into the middle of Iraq and really wouldn't be appropriate for you all to move out there unless the distance of the ...
COL ETHRINGTON: Again, it depends on the war. If the war looks like it's going to stretch out into a 20 or 30 day war, it might be a possibility to move an evac up into Iraq at an operational base. But, given the circumstances today I don't see that happening. We would move either back to Log Base BRAVO or some other location, possibly to even VII Corps log base, but most likely not. I think the most ... percentage-wise the best chance is that we'll all stay where we are because the Air Force, once it gets airfields open, even the 93d at Rafha is within ten minutes flying time of CHARLIE or many of the other locations. Should again, if the corps pulls out of Rafha and moves and we wouldn't need any security there for the 93d, then we'd close it down and move it someplace.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Very good. Well, we're just about at the end of our interview. If I could run down some of your views about the communications. Do you have enough radios? That's kind of a loaded question because I know you don't. But, in your view as a commander, have you been constrained from getting those radios? What have you done to try to get adequate communications?
COL ETHRINGTON: Communication has been a problem throughout the brigade and I'm sure throughout the whole corps. TOE-wise we've got adequate radios to do communication. The distances, the geographics have limited radio communication. Likewise, we don't have some radios that we're supposed to have in the hospitals, the AM radios, the AN/GRC-193 that's supposed to be part of the TAMMIS system. I've only got one hospital out of five that's got that. One of the hospitals has got maintenance problems with their AN/GRC-106, which is another AM radio. Tac[tical] phones have been the biggest problem, either not being able to get a tac phone or once we get the tac phone keeping it operational have been the biggest problems. Distances that we're operating over cause FM to be pretty well unusable except for dust-offs. When aircraft are in the air and we've got an inbound, unfortunately even trying to request dust-offs using AM has been a problem for us in the last few days. We've had to use tac phones and even in some cases vehicles coming in telling us that there's a car wreck or vehicle wreck somewhere.
MAJ HONEC: Is this due to the environment or due to the Iraqi operations?
COL ETHRINGTON: We've got four people within this area that are monitoring on their 3915s and yet from eleven miles away at COSCOM we find out that they have not been able to call us for a particular incident they had. They had to call us by tac phone, so the only thing I can say is it must be environment because FM is certainly good more than straight line. Like we've got here, it's good for more than eleven miles. All of the units affected have got -254s up. So, I don't know. We're obviously trying to figure that out and make some improvements to try to get that done.
MAJ HONEC: But, it's still a very valid issue for the record. TOE changes. What sorts of things ... I know that you're not a radio expert, but what sorts of things do you need to do adequate communication to do your medical mission?
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, I would suspect that TOE-wise there are probably very few changes in the group headquarters. I hesitate to say we need better because better is relative. But, maintenance support of COMSEC14 equipment and radio equipment has been a problem for us. This high tech stuff like TAMMIS and TACS are really dependent on good power generation sources and up until the time we got a 30 kw15 generator that's not on our TOE ... using our TOE 5 kws we were having a lot of problems with radios burning up because of power surges or because the power generator was going down. Now that we've got the 30 kws that seems to be resolved. So, a TOE change might be a better power source, like the 30 kw for the group headquarters.
MAJ HONEC: Good.
COL ETHRINGTON: Fax machines, secure equipment, power sources ... those kind of things all need to be looked at.
MAJ HONEC: If you had a fax machine, what would you see as a commander to use those ...
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, we have fax machines. I think TOE-wise we have two. Right now we have one up and they've proved very valuable. We've gotten a lot of correspondence from the brigade by tac[tical] fax. And conversely from our own units, we get a lot of things from them by fax. Right now, it's FM, fax or tac phone. AM has either not had the capability or we've not been using it.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. You, yourself, do you have enough vehicles to do your command and control with?
COL ETHRINGTON: We've had to get other vehicles to do that. Headquarters has got ... one of their missions is we've got a doc and a nurse and a radiation protection officer and a preventive medicine officer that all need to be out with the units, not counting the sergeant major and the S-1, S-3, S-4 that need to be out. There's a significant shortage of vehicles and drivers. It's a problem. They've got commercial vehicles ... back to that Saudi purchasing business. We've got Saudi commercial vehicles rented here. And we've picked up some others that we use for doing this liaison kind of work and being down in the units, helping the units out.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. But, this need for those types of vehicles and everyone to have a vehicle is exacerbated probably because of the distances involved, would that be, sir? The large distances you have to travel and the lack of public transportation or a transportation system, adequate roads?
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, two things I think. One, you've got to remember that, yes, distances are a problem, but a med group or any other group of CS/CSS is probably going to have their units geographically dispersed. You're not going to have five hospitals all sitting in the same location. So, I don't think that's an unusual thing. I think that's something that people normally consider. The number of vehicles ... we don't want a vehicle per individual. My S-1, S-4 can all make liaison visits the same day with one vehicle. Likewise, the doc and nurse can go out together quite a bit. But, we have found that it's been a problem.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. With the vehicles you have, how are the ... do you have the newest five tons, the [M]-951s, I think it is ...
COL ETHRINGTON: [M]-993s.
MAJ HONEC: I'm sorry.
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, the hospitals got them as part of the DEPMEDS and a few brought them from home stations, but they were just issued. Lack of a PLL16 and those kind of things has been a problem as far as maintaining those vehicles. The group only has, I think, two deuce-and-a-halfs17 authorized. It takes significantly more than that to move it as we configure today, anyway. By the time you had two TAMMIS boxes--I'm sorry, two TAC boxes; the TAMMIS system, tentage; people; you need more than that to move a group. But, again, the group can move depending on corps assets. But it's not as if we need a lot more vehicles. In peacetime our needs particularly are constrained by resources. We just can't give everybody every vehicle and I understand that.
MAJ HONEC: All right. On the special subject of TAMMIS, how is TAMMIS helping you as commander to do your mission now?
COL ETHRINGTON: If we had the TAMMIS radios, it would be a big help. Without the TAMMIS radios it just becomes a big ...
MAJ HONEC: Big internal ...
COL ETHRINGTON: ... data box with a lot of information in it that you can get out real quickly, then you've got to transmit it by courier, by data disk or hard copy. If we had the -193s, it would be a much bigger help.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. But, it is ... the system has been reliable in the desert environment thus far?
COL ETHRINGTON: The basic box with the data ... I mean, with the computer has been reliable except, again, the power surges and the problems with maintaining that kind of sophisticated equipment in the desert or just in the open environment.
MAJ HONEC: I suppose that I could get that input from the maintenance folks, from the electronic ... from the commo folks, but what sorts of maintenance has it required more? And is it normal for here ... is it within normal in Europe perhaps?
COL ETHRINGTON: Probably. I just don't know, but most likely. The radio is important. As an interface between the radio and the computer, probably APIU ... and I don't know what it stands for.
MAJ HONEC: Auxiliary power ...
COL ETHRINGTON: But, it takes the computer data, puts it into a radio transmittable form of some kind and we don't have those either. If we had both the radio and the APIU, then it would be super valuable extension to us.
MAJ HONEC: What was the root cause of this shortage for you, just the time and the ...
COL ETHRINGTON: They supposedly were in-country. We kept getting dates we would get them. The dates just continued to slip and slipped so far until only one unit has got them and that's the 86th.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Very good. You touched upon transportation. Besides the corps-level support, which obviously you've had to scrounge for, to do your mission, to get ... to set up ... to get your elements moved to each case, and also the use of the civilian vehicles to allow you ... which has been a help to allow you to do your mission, is there any other transportation issues that you think would require TOE changes or perhaps any forced planning changes other than what you've eliminated?
COL ETHRINGTON: No, I don't think so and I don't like the use of the word "scrounge." It may be a true word, but ...
MAJ HONEC: Sorry.
COL ETHRINGTON: We've gotten some vehicles from corps. COSCOM has been as helpful as they could be. It's one of the realities of the world. When it comes down to being the bullets to get the fighters on the road or medical supplies and medical equipment, the bullets is going to take priority. And we have gone out and made some deals on our own and we've gone out and picked up bobtails and S&Ps to get our stuff up here, yes. But, I don't think we've gotten down to the point of scrounging. But, we've done some things that we had to do to get our stuff up here, yes, but it was all pretty much with--certainly with the knowledge of the brigade and the COSCOM folks that we were doing that. So it was not that we were doing it behind somebody's back.
MAJ HONEC: No, sir. I didn't mean that in that sense.
COL ETHRINGTON: Now, the transportation issue is going to be one that will be talked about for years to come. I'll say again what I said before. If we had the assets ... and I understand that in a peacetime environment particularly it's a resource constraint. But, if we had the assets and my S-4 and my S-3 could have been doing the other things that are in their book to do rather than out fighting for transportation assets, we would have been a little bit better off as far as taking care of patients. In the end, it all worked out. We got the hospitals up here. We got equipment. We got supplies. It just took extraordinary efforts to do that that could have been devoted to other things other than transportation.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Thank you. All right. Transportation, communications. How about personnel? Is there any ... how has the various programs that we have and the medical ... how have those programs helped you staff your hospitals and ...
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, docs and nurses-wise with the hospitals, we've done pretty good. The PROFIS18 program, the other fill-up programs that we've got has done pretty well. Enlisted hasn't done quite as well. 91C particularly still has a shortage. A week or ten days before the war we got a significant number of enlisted replacements or fillers and that's helped a great deal. So, we really don't have any war-stopper shortages right now at this point in time.
TOEs are probably good. The problem with TOEs was that--all of the--all of the evacs save the 86th were still under the TOE for a MUST hospital and of course, got the DEPMEDS equipment and the TOE for the DEPMEDS never followed. So, in some cases, some support people--the engineers, for example--were trained theoretically for MUST equipment (the refrigeration and the jet propulsion stuff) and now they're working with 100 kw generators and the environmental control units. But, that hasn't proved to be a problem. The differences are relatively small, so I don't think that's a problem. And the DEPMEDS TOE has those in it, so it's not a problem there.
MAJ HONEC: The replacements have been officers and enlisted or enlisted replacements?
COL ETHRINGTON: Officers and enlisted, primarily enlisted.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. And primarily enlisted, these were 91As, Bs?
COL ETHRINGTON: As, Bs, I think, and Cs. We've gotten some of it all. The officers, just two or three days ago we got eight physicians and a couple of nurses. We've gotten some of it all.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. These were the shortages that were identified--shortages in personnel that were identified back before you--or as you were setting up operations and ...
COL ETHRINGTON: Yes, through the PERSTAT (personnel status report), the shortages that were reflected there.
MAJ HONEC: Okay, sir. These folks are coming off of ... are they activated reservists or are they ...
COL ETHRINGTON: Some. Some of both. The physicians and nurses we got were some active and some reserve. One doc was recalled to active duty and had worked at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center, Washington, DC] for several months and requested to come over here, so he came over.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. It seems like thankfully the war effort is not putting a drain on the medical resources at the moment. You folks are busy, but they do ... if you eliminate some of the morale issues ... I understand there's a PX at one of the ... that's a very innovative command-type thing. Could you perhaps illuminate some other morale things that you ... ?
COL ETHRINGTON: I think all the units have done things for morale. We had what we called a Pre-G-Day party here where we had a dance and a steak dinner.
MAJ HONEC: Great.
COL ETHRINGTON: And every unit has done something similar to that. The system, in my opinion, takes care of most of the things that would be PX problems. We've got ... you know, you get Cokes and crackers and cookies and all that kind of stuff through the Army system.
MAJ HONEC: But, not cigarettes, sir?
COL ETHRINGTON: You don't get cigarettes and in my opinion, you don't need cigarettes. But, yes, some people wanted to open a PX so they could get cigarettes and other tobacco products. Personally I think that's wrong, but you do it anyway, I guess. [LAUGHTER]
MAJ HONEC: Yes, sir.
COL ETHRINGTON: The system ... sundry packs for males has been no problem, so we get basically the things ...
MAJ HONEC: That was my next issue, the mail issue.
COL ETHRINGTON: Female sundry packs have been short and my HHD commander has used the purchasing agent role to buy female hygiene items, but we've not had a problem with that and don't need a PX for that. That's another one of the things that people say they need a PX for and certainly, if you don't get them through the local purchase, you do need a PX for that. The other item I hear people talking about mostly they need a PX for is batteries and maybe camera film, that kind of stuff. And certainly there's nothing wrong with having a PX.
One of my units has established a PX. I gave that as a morale issue to the chaplain and he went out and did it. But, I think primarily, if you ask 95 percent of the smokers anyway, the PX was needed for tobacco.
MAJ HONEC: Any other ... let's see ... for morale support ... how much ... have you gotten your fair share of equipment to staff your activity rooms and what not?
COL ETHRINGTON: Yes. Oh, yes. TVs and VCRs and that kind of stuff? Yes, every unit's got those. They get films, tapes. That's not a problem. The biggest problem with morale and personally I don't think we've had a problem with morale, but the biggest problem has been perhaps boredom, particularly for the docs and nurses in not seeing patients. The 109th, for example, didn't actually open its doors until G-Day even though it was fully set up, but it was awaiting some essential equipment before we'd say "you're an operational facility." In fact, the day they became operational, they were operational with 400 beds with TOE capability. The 1st Med Group, more so than us, has that problem, I suspect because they were up-loaded quite a bit of the time waiting movement orders. So, their docs, nurses, enlisted had very little to do except plan and train and even up-loaded they didn't do much training, of course. We've been pretty fortunate that most of our facilities have been seeing sick call and the injured patients and that kind of thing. So, for morale purposes anyway, that was good.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Thank you for the record. Any other issues that you see as a commander?
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, we've talked a lot about hospitals and about equipping of hospitals, personnel for hospitals. We haven't talked at all about the two battalions that I've got and they're extremely important battalions.
The 36th Med Battalion has got two clearing platoons and a ground ambulance company. The two clearing platoons have been doing a lot of sick call particularly down at KKMC. But, their primarily role has been to set up and prepare for patient decontamination and they've done an outstanding job doing that. If we had gotten, or God forbid if we do get, contaminated patients from up front, they should be able to take care of that. We've had some adjusting we had to do in the last couple of days because of some missions we were given in our patient decon business. But, that's been their biggest factor, sick call and preparing to do the patient decon role. Their ground ambulances are for patient movement between facilities, to and from the airfield and that kind of thing.
The 56th Med Battalion is an evacuation battalion essentially. They've got four air ambulance detachments or companies and one ground ambulance company and, again, for patient evacuation. Most of the helicopters we've heard flying over here are probably my helicopters. We've got four--eleven right now forward sited up with the divisions or the medical facilities located up there. The rest have either been waiting missions or carrying patients back and forth to KKMC, urgent patients primarily. And they have good OR19 rates with their helicopters. They've done a super job of maintaining and a good job of flying when required.
So, those two battalions, again, they seem to be overshadowed by the hospitals. They're super-good units and doing their required jobs. The other separate unit that I've got is a JA team, a small veterinary detachment.
MAJ HONEC: Yes. What do they do?
COL ETHRINGTON: Their primarily role is food inspection. They do have capability of taking care of working dogs. There are three working dogs in the area and they're taking care of them.
MAJ HONEC: These are bomb squad dogs, sir?
COL ETHRINGTON: Sniffer dogs, yes. They're not patrol dogs. There are no Air Force units in the area, so my team doesn't have any Air Force security problems. As far as I know there are no dogs at Rafha at the little air base up there. And then the HHD, of course, we've talked about. But, those are my units.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. The structure is something we'll record for history. Let's see. That's really all that I have to cover, except for perhaps any other technology issues that you see as a commander or perhaps medical intelligence issues or perhaps ...
COL ETHRINGTON: Well, most of the EPWs that we get will have been interrogated in the forward area and then they'll be further interrogated when they get back to another cage somewhere.
MAJ HONEC: They've been compliant? They've been fairly good?
COL ETHRINGTON: Yes, the ones that I've seen personally, and I think all of them, have been very happy to be in our facilities. They've been very cooperative, eating a lot and have posed no problems at all so far. [SOUND OF KNOCKING ON WOODEN TABLE.] Hopefully they won't.
MAJ HONEC: Okay.
COL ETHRINGTON: Medical intelligence. We get a fair amount of intelligence through the normal command channels, reference endemic diseases and the possibility of chemical attack or biological attack, precautions to take for that, that kind of thing. We're doing relatively well.
MAJ HONEC: Have you had the decon--decontamination team that's in the theater right now--there are special teams set up to advise ... come down and advise you. Have you had those visits?
COL ETHRINGTON: Yes, we've had them both at KKMC and up here.
MAJ HONEC: Do you know off-hand who was in the teams that visited you?
COL ETHRINGTON: Let's see. I had their names written down in my notebook. There's an O-6 Army type that's the head of the team. Then there's an Air Force and Army lieutenant colonel, all of them from our research and development and chemical agencies. I don't remember their names.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. There was a Mr. Dunn that was supposed to be ...
COL ETHRINGTON: COL Dunn.
MAJ HONEC: COL Dunn.
COL ETHRINGTON: He was the O-6, yes.
MAJ HONEC: Yes, sir. Okay. Okay. From a lessons-learned concept, is there perhaps anything else that perhaps you would like to illuminate?
COL ETHRINGTON: We've talked about all of the things that I would include on lessons-learned. Coordinating better, if possible; the arrival of equipment and personnel; looking at the impact of single parents and dual military families. Those are the two major issues. Transportation solutions, is possible. Those are basically the things I think need to be looked at.
MAJ HONEC: Well, that's all I really have. If there's nothing further, I'll conclude this Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM interview. Thank you very much, sir, for your comments.
COL ETHRINGTON: Thank you.
[END OF INTERVIEW]