After returning from war, these veterans go back to save lives

Matt Saintsing
September 17, 2018 - 5:19 pm

Photo Courtesy of Global Response Management

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Those who have been to war know it’s hell, often irredeemable, and felt hardest by local civilians who find themselves caught in the middle of the fighting. 

That’s why, in 2017, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan founded Global Response Management (GRM), an international medical non-government organization (NGO) to bring battlefield medical expertise to those who need it the most: civilians.

Photo Courtesy of Global Response Management

“We worked so hard to secure Iraq,” says Helen Perry, a former Army nurse who volunteers with GRM. “And then these poor people, they just get bombarded by this terrible al-Qaeda offshoot out of Syria,” known as the Islamic State or ISIS. 

GRM’s founder, two-time Afghan war and Marine Corps veteran Pete Reed, made his way to Mosul in 2016. He noticed that no NGO was operating anywhere remotely close to where Iraqi civilians became war casualties. It’s common for medical organizations to set up shop far behind where the fighting takes place, due to security concerns, but the distance alone can be a killer. 

“The problem in trauma, in war trauma specifically, is we talk about the golden hour, and even the golden 10 minutes,” says Perry. “Really those first 10 minutes post-injury is when we can do the most good and if people are having to walk 10, 15, 25 miles just to get to you, most of them die.” 

Reed saw what was happening on the ground and found a way to provide medical care in the city of Mosul, far enough away to be relatively safe, but close enough to save lives. They set up trauma sites in critical locations around Mosul, and treated anybody who needed it, no questions asked. As a former Marine, Reed knew where the choke-points would be and where civilians might be injured. 

Photo Courtesy of Global Response Management

From their base in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan in the northeastern part of the country, Perry and other volunteers made day trips to the city to treat casualties. They also set up clinics inside Mosul where the most significant urban battle since World War II raged. 

Perry says gunshot wounds, burns, and blast injuries were rampant. They also treated Iraqis who fell victim to chemical attacks, as weaponized chlorine and sulfur-mustard was a common tactic among ISIS. 

In addition to the more violent realities of war, the citizens of Mosul had a massive need for primary care. “ISIS began hoarding all the medication they could find,” says Perry. “They went into stores, homes, anywhere they could find and raided everything—money, jewelry, medicine, food, water, anything.” 

But ISIS was particularly interested in medicine so they could treat their fighters, and to create desperation where civilians had to go to areas controlled by the Islamic State to receive any medical care. Because of this, “there was this huge medical desert where Iraqis couldn’t get basic medical supplies,” says Perry. 

Photo Courtesy of Global Response Management

GRM’s six-person board, half of which are women (a detail Perry wishes she didn’t have to brag about) decides where to go based on where there is the most need. Mosul clearly topped that list, but they’re gearing up to bring another team to Yemen later this year. 

“We go where most people won’t,” says Perry. “Our whole platform is that we’re not going to go to the nice cushy places where things have long since calmed down, we want to go where people need us the most.” 

Not only is Yemen in the midst of a brutal civil war, the Arab nation is experiencing a massive famine and cholera outbreak. Nearly 80 percent of Yemenis are food-insecure, a number that's grown worse since November 2017 when Saudi Arabia blocked its borders with Yemen making it impossible for anyone to deliver water, food and medical supplies. 

“Pile on a civil war where there are bombings, and people getting caught up in that, the situation becomes exponentially worse,” adds Perry. 

Photo Courtesy of Global Response Management

Perry says their goal is to deploy a team to Yemen by the end of 2018. To make that happen, GRM needs donations and volunteers who are willing to risk their lives. They’re looking for paramedics, nurses, doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants who are eager to go on two to four-week trips to set up health care clinics. 

But it isn’t sustainable to have an international NGO stay in combat zones forever, particularly when volunteers staff them. So, GRM also educates the local populace about medicine and other, more fundamental, medical practices. 

“We do exactly what we did in the military,” says Perry. “We take that crawl, walk, run approach.” In doing so, they teach people how to handle trauma as best as possible, just as they did in Mosul. 

Those interested in volunteering their medical expertise, especially if they have military experience, can click here to fill out the volunteer request form.

To fund their trips, GRM is heavily reliant on donations. “We’re committed to going overseas,” she says. “We believe it is the right thing to do, but to get to that, we fund the fight ourselves.” With over 91 percent of their funds going directly towards patient care, donors can rest assured their funds are going towards saving lives.

Click here to see more pictures provided by GRM. Warning, some are extremely graphic. 

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