Doctors, nurses ship out
Company commanders aren't supposed to show emotion in front of their soldiers.
But military protocol couldn't stop Lt. Robert Murach of the Army Reserve's 339th Combat Support Hospital from choking up Thursday as he stood in front of his troops and spoke of the cousin he lost in the terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center towers.
"Not only has your family entrusted you to this mission, and not only has the Army entrusted you, but my uncle wishes to thank you all for what you are about to do," Murach said. "Godspeed."
Murach, of Dormont, Allegheny County, chose those words to inspire the 100 doctors, nurses and medical specialists under his command who have been called to active duty.
They boarded buses at their Coraopolis headquarters yesterday morning, bound for Fort Dix, N.J. From there, they will be sent to an undisclosed location, most likely overseas, for anywhere from 90 to 179 days. Some may serve longer, possibly for up to two years.
Among those who shipped out was Maj. Marcel Denard, a Greensburg dentist with a practice in Wellington Square. Denard anticipates spending 90 days on active duty, and said he welcomes the chance to serve.
His wife, Debbie, joined dozens of other family members in seeing their loved ones off. She said the toughest part of the deployment, so far, has been telling the couple's 3-year-old son, John, that his father will be away for several months.
"After I started giving him the information, he cried every time his dad got into uniform," Debbie Denard said. "My greatest concern is getting him through this."
Spc. Anitra Coleman of Pleasant Unity also has a son, but as a single mother, she made arrangements with an aunt and uncle to care for her child.
A combat medic, Coleman said she is comforted that David, 8, will stay with trusted relatives. She said he also seems to understand why she must go.
"I explained to him that we will help, medically, soldiers who are fighting for our country," Coleman said. "He was a little sad, but he's very secure with where he's staying."
Although the mobilization came as little surprise to most in the unit, many did not know yesterday where they will be stationed while on active duty.
Spokesman Jack Gordon said the unit's mission site is classified, but several soldiers said they were told they are headed overseas.
"But that's all they've said," said Lt. William Deemer, a registered nurse from Salina, Bell Township. "Overseas could be anywhere."
Should they be sent into a combat zone, it will be the second time Sgt. Donn Ruhl of Monessen will find himself in harm's way. Ruhl, who spent 24 years in the regular Army before joining the reserves, helped clear minefields and dig tank trenches during Operation Desert Storm.
Ruhl has since become a licensed practical nurse and is assigned to the 339th's intensive care unit. He doesn't know whether he will be tending to civilian or military patients, but he has high expectations.
"I feel this will be a high-speed, high-tech mission that anyone who is interested in combat medicine would want to be a part of," Ruhl said.
Regardless of where they are sent, many of the soldiers said they are prepared to take on any mission — especially if they can do so as a unit.
"This is an excellent group," said Capt. Jim Addis, a registered nurse from New Salem, Fayette County, who also departed yesterday. "I'd trust these people with my life."
Part of the U.S. Army Reserve's 99th Regional Support Command, the 339th is comprised of soldiers from the tri-state area and can treat up to 248 patients daily.