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Minnesota National Guard
Pediatric burn unit in Iraqis oasis of goodwill

Col Craig Lambrecht is headed home But part of his soul forever will remain at a barren place in Iraq called Smith Gate Clinic

"I can't wait to hug my wife and kids," the North Dakota physician and National Guardsman said during a telephone call from Kuwait "But none of us ever will forget those kids"

What Lambrecht and some members of the Minnesota National Guard have done is turn a pediatric burn center into a life-affirming oasis

The troops recently received a helping hand from people in Minnesota and North Dakota who donated more than $50,000 to the good works of the men and women at Smith Gate Many of those donations were collected through Lambrecht's civilian employer in Bismarck, Medcenter One

Pharmaceutical companies also pitched in with large donations of drugs and other supplies

The clinic shelves are stocked The tragic lines of kids can be served

I first wrote of Smith Gate Clinic in November

Clinic is a grand word for Smith Gate, for it is merely a trailer outside the perimeter of a military outpost, Scania, which is on a major supply route 60 miles south of Baghdad

Humble as it is, the clinic has served as the only major pediatric burn center in Iraq It barely was existing -- on a slim diet of military leftovers -- before the 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery Regiment, headquartered in New Ulm, arrived in May

The clinic never has been the official mission of the outfit The priority of the troops is to escort convoys along the road to Baghdad

But medics with the unit, and Lambrecht, a physician assigned to Scania, were pulled, heart first, into Smith Gate They poured their off-duty time into the steady stream of children arriving at the clinic with awful burns Lambrecht singles out Sgt Anne Baumtrog, a Minneapolis firefighter in civilian life, as "the heart and soul of the clinic"

Tough as the extra hours are and emotionally draining as it is to treat burned children, the harshest reality was that on some days there were not enough supplies to help the kids sitting in the clinic's waiting room, which is a bench under a canopy

It was that supply shortage that led Lambrecht and others to turn to the rest of us for help

When donations poured in, the troops were stunned and gratified There are now enough supplies on hand to keep the clinic running months after the Minnesotans return home in March

But in its final weeks in Iraq, the Guard members are pouring ever more energy into the kids who show up That includes getting at least a couple of children to the United States for sophisticated medical care

One child, Kawthir, an 8-year-old girl, arrived in Syracuse, NY, for heart care shortly after Christmas

The troops now are scrambling to get a little girl, Esmma, who has severe burns on her face, ears, chest and arms, to the United States for treatment

"Without care in the US, these kids probably wouldn't live," Lambrecht said

The Guard members are praying that little girls such as Esmma and Kawthir can be their legacy

"They want to leave feeling they've done everything that possibly can be done for as many kids as possible," Lambrecht said

And once they get home, Lambrecht vowed, the troops will find ways to reach back to Smith Gate The Medcenter One Foundation -- wwwmedcenteronecom -- will continue to accept contributions, and that money will continue to be used for children in Iraq

"We can never let these kids go," Lambrecht said

Doug Grow "ยข dgrow@startribune.com
Source: http://www.startribune.com/465/story/919032.html

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