BAGHDAD, Iraq –
To provide high-quality medical care in the middle of a desert country, several elements are essential to keep a modern hospital running and ready to receive and care for U.S. service members and Coalition Force patients. One of the more prominent vital elements, often overlooked, is access to safe and reliable electricity.
To meet this challenge, the power team of Joint Task Force (JTF) Med 374 is doing its part to keep the lights on and the hospital running. This precious resource is key to acquiring vital signs, the maintenance of an airway using a ventilator, infusing medications through a pump, performing a life-saving procedure in an operating room, storage of life-saving blood products using industrial-grade refrigeration systems, or operating sensitive imaging equipment for X-ray and C.T. scans.
Life is good when the power is on, but when the power goes down, contingency plans are tested, and the power team gets to work.
"That's when a message goes out on the Marauder chat; 'Power team report,'" said Sgt. James Riordan. "We can get the call at any time. When that message goes out, we get to Role III as fast as possible and work on transferring power from the generators. We go around and turn off all the A.C. units and then work on starting up the generators."
"I think the team works well together and autonomously," Sgt. Kevin Mendez, the power team's NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge). "They are able to get the hospital up and running without delay, even without me."
Before becoming part of the power team, Riordan and the other team members, including Spc. Josiah Morrel, Spc. Darius Watkins, Spc. Elizabeth Dunfee, completed a 40-hour course to become familiar with general operations and troubleshooting of electrical systems.
Mendez, the group's leader, is a 91D (Tactical Power Generation Specialist) and had to complete a longer, more in-depth course on the maintenance and troubleshooting of military power systems, loads, and equipment. To serve in his current role, he was required to complete an 8-week course similar to the other team members but with a more in-depth emphasis on troubleshooting and maintenance of tactical generators and large electrical systems. Mendez is also tasked with other maintenance responsibilities, but power generators are his primary role.
"At the course we took, we learned a lot about operating the generators," said Riordan. "How to turn them on, how to push power. We also learned about electrical current, voltage, the different phases of power, distribution boxes, power loads, and some troubleshooting."
To keep the hospital online, the power team relies on 100kW TQG Generator set to power the hospital when needed. These generators are fully enclosed, self-contained, and operate off diesel fuel. One hundred kilowatts of power is a lot of power. To put this in perspective, the average U.S. household uses 30 kilowatts of power per day—according to the Energy Information Agency. This would only require 30 percent of the energy the unit produces, and the hospital utilizes multiple units to support its power needs.
Each generator unit has a 66-gallon capacity tank which can last up to 8 hours depending on the electrical load connected. This isn't a problem for short periods, but sometimes the generator power may be needed longer. When this happens, each of the units has to be refueled. To do this, the generators can be topped off using tankers or one Jerry can (military name for gas container ) at a time. No job is too big or small, and even the medical staff is asked to help fill up the generators around the clock.
"It's been great learning how to fill up the generators and get them started
When the power goes out," said 1st Lt. Mary Kurtz. "It's not something I am used to doing. I appreciate all the high-speed Soldiers that have shown me and the night shift EMT crew how it's done. Shout out to the great NCOs and junior enlisted who work hard to keep the hospital running!"
Regular maintenance of the generators is an absolute must, as the team has had to deal with the units leaking fluids, systems faults, and defective breakers. When this happens, the team has to think fast and make adjustments as needed to supply power to the most critical areas of the hospital.
"For an extra duty, it (power team) is not bad," said Riordan. "I think it is cool to know what to do when things go wrong, and you can show up and know what to do."
While there are many dangers to working with large electrical grids and living in a combat zone, another unlikely hazard exists working on the power team that comes from above—the birds. The desert is home to many types of pigeons who have made their home in some of the rafters of the buildings, located near many of the A.C. units and power distribution boxes.
"We were switching from generator power back to grid power, and I was flipping the breakers on one the distribution boxes," said Riordan. "That's when I took fire from above. Apparently, the birds wanted to use me for target practice. Got me right on the leg. I try to help, and I get punished."
After the bird incident, the team now works in pairs. One works on the power units, and the other assumes 'poop duty,' keeping a watchful eye for birds in the rafters and shooing them away.
Reflecting on the team's contributions to the hospital, Mendez shared that he appreciates seeing the impact of his team's work in person, ensuring that the Role III can function at its full capability and remain mission ready.