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Caring hands

Thursday, August 3, 2006

(Photo)
CHRISTINA ARMSTEAD
Mammoth Spring soldier cares for injured in Kuwait

KUWAIT -- Two weeks after graduating from Mammoth Spring High School, Christina Armstead joined the U.S. Air Force.

That was May 27, 2003, and she has never looked back.

Armstead serves as a medical technician assigned to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kuwait. She is permanently assigned to the 375th Medical Group at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Mammoth Spring is home to Armstead and has been since the second grade. Her parents are George and Laverne Armstead. She has an older sister who lives in Bentonville, Ark., and a younger brother who attends Mammoth Spring High School.

Armstead works 12-hour shifts from 6:45 p.m. to 6:45 a.m. in a military medical facility tending to patients injured in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other troubled areas of the Middle East.

She said as graduation neared back home in 2003, she knew the military was always an option. "Both my parents did stints in the Army. I always wanted to go to college, so I figured, why not receive an education and serve my country at the same time?" Armstead said in a telephone interview last week.

Armstead has been in Kuwait 2 1/2 months. The days are hot, sandy and dusty. The nights are hot, sandy and dusty. The work is hard but satisfying.

"Patients are rescued and brought to our location. Most are non-ambulatory. We fix who we can. If their injuries are severe or serious we fly them to a German hospital that is more equipped to handle their injuries," she said.

Armstead said some of the patients return to work after they are released from the German hospital. Those with more serious injuries are returned to the United States.

She said it is not only American soldiers treated at the medical facility but also Third World country nationalists and coalition forces. "We help where help is needed," she said.

It was 115 degrees last week in Kuwait. "It is hot here. There is no grass and a lot of sand," Armstead said.

She is allowed two 15- minute phone calls a week. "You can only talk 15 minutes at a time. After 15 minutes you have to hang up and call again. I talk to home (Mom) every week," she said.

Armstead said she misses the rolling, lush hills of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. She will get leave in September and return to Mammoth Spring for a short period of time but not before she celebrates her 21st birthday Aug. 27 in Kuwait. "I'll be turning 21 here, away from home," she said.

Armstead said the Air Force has been good to her. She said when she first became interested in pursuing a career in the military, her mother steered her toward the Air Force. "Mom said the Air Force would offer a better quality of life, and she was right," Armstead said.

She said she enlisted for four years and plans to re-enlist. She said she would like to see more young people enlist in the Air Force.

"Coming from a small town like Mammoth Spring, there are not a lot of job opportunities. Our economy back home is not that great, but it is still home. Because of the Air Force I will be able to return home, or close to home, and make a decent living," she said.

She said she may make a 20-year career out of the Air Force and take some college courses. "I am interested in forensic pathology and my plan is to pursue a degree in that area," she said.

Entertainment in the desert of the Middle East does not come often but when it does it is always anticipated and appreciated, she said.

"There is not much to do here. We follow a routine. We work out a lot. Entertainment is CNN. We have had a couple of concerts, the Air Force Tops and Blues, which is a traveling musical show," she said.

The base where Armstead is stationed is not only home to the Air Force, but is shared by the Army, Marines and Navy. It is also home to Australian, Japanese, Korean and some British soldiers.

Is her job dangerous? "Just being an American is dangerous. There are many countries that don't like Americans," she said.

"I can't wait to get home in September. It's the little stuff, the little things you miss. Being here makes you very proud to be an American. At home you can do whatever you want. You can't here. I not only miss Mammoth Spring, I miss America," she said.

She said the Air Force has tried to make her stay in Kuwait comfortable. "Like on the Fourth of July, they tried to make it like back home in Arkansas. We had ribs and corn-on-the-cob. That helped," she said.

"I want people to realize how awesome it is to be an American. It means a lot to us to have the people back home support us," she said.

Armstead said she thinks the United States has made a difference in the current conflict and their efforts have been successful.

"Freedom is not free. If we (America) don't stand up we will end up like one of these little nations. As a country we have stood up. We are proving to the world that we are not going to allow 9/11 to happen again," she said



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