Army hospital in Kuwait prepares for biological, chemical attack
The Jerusalem Post

13 March 2003

CAMP UDAIRI, Kuwait - A high-tech system of air filters working in a series of tents is the pride of a new U.S. Army combat hospital designed to protect staff and patients from chemical attack.

Known as the "bubble," the filtering system works like a giant gas mask to keep out air polluted by a chemical or biological attack.

"We probably have the cleanest air in this part of the world, and it's probably cleaner than the air we have back at home," said Col. Harry Warren, 45, an orthopedic surgeon who is the commander of the hospital.

The "bubble" bears no resemblance to its round, clear namesake. It is actually a complex system of air filters that function in a series of tents that are airtight. It is controlled by what looks like an air conditioner unit on the outside.

The filters clean the air of agents that would be released in a chemical attack and create a pristine environment for the staff and patients.

The hospital and its bubble look like any ordinary series of dark green Army tents on a three-acre (1.2-hectare) plot of sand.

But inside, you leave the desert behind. Artificial light radiates along the windowless pea green walls, illuminating medical instruments. A narrow hallway leads soldiers through a maze of rooms such as the lab, the operating rooms and intensive care unit.

About 20 casualties an hour can be decontaminated in a special area before being pushed on stretchers into the hospital. Others can walk in through a separate decontamination area.

The hospital has enough beds for 296 patients. A staff of 500 medical personnel sleep 50 feet (15 meters) away, prepared to treat massive casualties at any time.

The hospital is run by the 86th Combat Support Hospital - a unit from the 101st Airborne Division. It has been deployed to Kosovo and Uzbekistan, where it treated casualties flown in from Afghanistan.

An advance team deployed in January to set up the hospital.

So far, 24 surgeries have been performed. Two were done on soldiers who received gunshot wounds during live fire exercises. Almost 3,000 others have been treated.

It takes a week to set up the hospital if the bubble is used or about three days without it. Parts of the hospital can also be moved within hours to establish an austere field operating room reminiscent of those seen on the television series M*A*S*H.

"If need be, we're mobile," Warren said. "We can put everything in trucks and move."

Staff members have been trained extensively on what to do in the event an unconventional weapon - such as a nerve agent - is used, said Staff Sgt. John Perdue, a respiratory therapist.

On Tuesday, workers conducted a drill treating patients while wearing gas masks - something they would be required to do the first hour after a biological or chemical attack, before all the bad air has been filtered out.

"We can deal with that," Perdue said of chemical attack. "Of course, we don't want to deal with that, but I'm confident all of our soldiers can perform to the task and take care of our casualties."