NBC News examines 'Wounds of War'

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NEW YORK -- NBC News is planning a major multiplatform push for a weeklong series on the medical care of soldiers wounded in the Iraq war.

"Wounds of War," reported by chief health/science correspondent Robert Bazell, will air each day Monday through Friday on "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" along with an additional report on the weekend news and at least one piece on "Today" and an hourlong MSNBC documentary in late March.

The reports take an in-depth look at the state of U.S. military medical care in Iraq, which has an amazing -- 96% -- survival rate for the wounded soldiers who make it alive to combat hospitals. Bazell toured three hospitals -- two Army and one Air Force -- talked to medivac personnel and even flew on the U.S. Air Force C-17 jets that serve as airborne intensive care units ferrying the wounded from Iraq to American military hospitals in Germany and then to the U.S.

The reports include interviews with the doctors, nurses and medics treating the wounded as well as some of the wounded themselves.

It was an eye-opening experience for Bazell, who traveled to Iraq to cover the story. He had never been in Iraq, much less to the military hospitals in Balad, Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

"This is a critical moment in our history," said Bazell. "It doesn't matter how you feel about the war, it's an interesting and important (medical) mission."

Like everyone at NBC News who spends any time in Iraq, Bazell spent a week getting specialized training in security and first aid. He also made sure that his crew were all experienced in Iraq; several have been there more than six times.

It took several months to get the permissions needed to get Bazell, cameraman Craig White, sound engineer Susan Becerra and field producer Kevin Monahan to Iraq. Although it's fairly easy to get an embed assigment in Iraq, NBC's request involved two services -- the Air Force and the Army -- and it was a lot more complicated. But after getting the necessary permissions, Bazell and his crew spent about two weeks in Iraq late last month and early this month.

NBC's weeklong series, months in the making, comes at the same time that ABC News anchor/correspondent Bob Woodruff does an hourlong report in primetime on his experiences since the Jan. 29, 2006, roadside bomb that severely injured him and his cameraman, Doug Vogt. NBC News said that there was no connection between the two sets of reports.

Bazell can't quite shake some of the people he met, like the unquestioned bravery of the soldiers whose injuries by roadside bombs often weren't their first or even second experience with improvised explosive devices attacking their convoys or the dedication of the medical personnel.

"There is an intense dedication by these people," Bazell said Thursday. "There's no cynicism among these people who are saving soldiers' lives."

In Tikrit, Bazell witnessed the arrival of four Iraqis wounded when U.S. soldiers traded fire with two people suspected of planting improvised explosive devices; two of the victims were caught in the crossfire and the other two were the terrorists themselves.

One of the bombers was taken to surgery right away, needing 30 units of blood in an hour. A call went out on the Tikrit base for donations of blood, and U.S. soldiers answered it even though they knew some of it might go to someone who was trying to kill them.

"A human life is a human life," one soldier told Bazell.

Another story in the series involves a five-year-old Iraqi girl who lost a leg when a mortar fell into her backyard where she was playing. An American humvee happened to be passing by and they discovered the girl and took her to a combat hospital, where she was adopted by the doctors and medical staff. Iraqi hospitals are overcrowded, rife with corruption and danger for the doctors, so there was no chance for rehab for the girl. Bazell's report tells the story of what happened to her.

"The story has a happy ending," he said.
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