Carson noncom fills in for troops in Iraq

Chief Warrant Officer Nancy Ramey of the Nevada National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters had no choice.

She had to deploy her husband, Staff Sgt. Douglas Ramey, to Fort Carson, Colo.

Douglas Ramey, 40, is an aircraft mechanic with the 126th Aviation Co. Medical Evacuation, where he's a noncommissioned officer in charge of keeping everything running. He'll be there at least a year - unless extended.

Meanwhile, Nancy Ramey, 45, makes do with a gaping hole where a window should be the living room wall of their unfinished Carson City home. And she's helping her daughter, Michelle Roza, off to the University of Nevada, Reno.

"I keep busy, and being alone helps me to focus on what has to be done," Ramey said. She's full-time with the National Guard, a career soldier in uniform daily issuing deployment orders for National Guard personnel.

"We miss Doug, but we get along," she said.

Douglas Ramey hitched a ride home last weekend in an Army C-12. He drove 18 hours back to Fort Carson in the family four-wheel drive Sunday.

While home, he took time to check the stock car he's building, sitting in the garage half-finished.

"It's going to have to wait until I'm back home full time, just like the house," he said. "We bought it as a fixer-upper, and there's lots to do.

"At Fort Carson, I take care of the day-to-day work of keeping our Black Hawk helicopters serviced and ready to make a rescue run." He works in a remote hangar on the edge of sprawling Fort Carson, along with chopper pilots such as CWO Jason M. Penrod of Pleasant Valley and CWO Richard Booth of Minden.

Penrod is a pharmacy student of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is continuing his studies through the Internet with the cooperation of university faculty and the help of Booth, a Douglas High School teacher of biology.

"We're replacing the 571st Medical Company, which is on duty in The Desert," said Penrod. "The Desert" or "The Sandbox" is how troops refer to Iraq, he said.

This means long hours of standing alert with their Black Hawk helicopters ready to go into life-saving action. Pilots work 12-hour shifts, sleeping in the hangar rooms.

It also means working with units such as a combat support hospital, a $36-million collection of tents and medical equipment that comes packed in steel shipping containers and can be set up and in action in 72 hours. The labyrinth of connected tents covers more than three acres and comes complete with the latest medical technology, not to mention 424 highly trained specialists. The hospital is the modern version of the old Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH).

"We go into a combat area and set up behind the lines," said Col. John Powell, commander of the hospital. "We have only one doctor to start, but there are medical doctors all over the country who would come on active duty when we set up.

Ramey works on the integration of the Black Hawk helicopters, which would bring wounded to the hospital.

"We're doing an exercise Thursday on making sure the hospital staff knows how to safely unload the wounded with a 'moulage' exercise, in which people acting as wounded complete with fake injuries are ferried by our choppers to the hospital," said Ramey.

During the exercise the Black Hawks brought in the wounded, the medical staff treated them, and it all worked as if it were a regular hospital.

The military calls what Douglas Ramey and Penrod and Booth are doing "backfill." That means they move in from civilian jobs to cover for the missing units in Iraq. Normally based at Fort Carson are the 7th Infantry Division, the 3rd Cavalry in Iraq, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Iraq, the 43rd Area Special Group and the 10th Special Forces.

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