It seemed like just a short while ago, Sgt. Lorenzo Lopez said, that he returned from a 15-month deployment to Iraq.
“Time flew,” said Lopez, a 22-year-old human resources specialist with the 62nd Medical Brigade headquarters who came back from the Middle East in October 2008. “It slides right through your fingers.”
But the Joint Base Lewis-McChord unit leaves next month for Afghanistan, the fourth time since 2003 the military has called the brigade headquarters to serve in a combat zone. Brigade officials cased the unit colors at Soldiers Field House at Lewis-McChord on Friday, the last formal event before leaving for a deployment overseas.
About 150 people will deploy and will provide command for all major medical units that provide care to NATO troops across Iraq. Subordinate units will provide a range of care, including routine medical and emergency services, surgery, dental care, medical logistics, preventative medicine, combat stress clinics, optometry, medical laboratory support, blood services and veterinary services.
The brigade will command units from all branches of the armed forces, and most of its troops will serve at Bagram Air Field Brigade commander Col. John Collins will serve as the top medical officer for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and provide oversight of all American military medical treatment facilities across the country.
“The officers, NCOs and soldiers of the 62nd Medical Brigade headquarters are trained and are ready to assume perhaps one of its most challenging missions yet,” Collins said in a speech. ” … This is a group of seasoned leaders, the best in the Army Medical Department.”
Its 17 months between deployments were filled with training and testing Lewis-McChord medics for the Expert Field Medical Badge and a 10-month stint as the command unit for the military’s contingency homeland medical mission, which can be called upon to administer care in the event of a mass casualty incident.
The medical badge training and testing was the first at Lewis-McChord in three years, and the homeland mission is exceptionally time- and labor-intensive, Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown said in a speech.
The brigade handled all of this while resetting after its Iraq deployment and preparing for its tour of Afghanistan, added Brown, the I Corps deputy commanding general for sustainment.
“The 62nd Medical Brigade has borne more than its fair share of the heavy burden of our continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said.