Navy doc saves lives in Landstuhl, Germany
By Lance Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski
| | April 14, 2005
MCRD/ERR PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
Wounded troops from Iraq arrived almost every morning. By airlift and ground transportation, the bruised and broken all made their way to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, to receive the care that would probably save their lives. Right in the middle of it all was Navy Capt. George Sakakini.
Now the senior medical officer-in-charge of the Branch Health Clinic-Medical, Sakakini was stationed aboard Parris Island months before the conflict even started, but as the fighting erupted, the casualties of war began piling into medical centers across the region and help was drastically needed.
Sakakini was soon cut orders to Landstuhl, where he would take up the position as the director of the fast-response medical treatment system. This title is just the latest for Sakakini, whose career started with a fascination in medicine decades earlier. As a child, Sakakini had aspirations of becoming a scientist, but after a broken arm, his dreams had changed.
"When I was about 6-years-old I fell and broke my arm and the orthopedic surgeon that took car of me impressed me so much ... I idolized the guy and when I grew up, I wanted to be just like him," said Sakakini, a native of Norfolk, Va.
The reason Sakakini pursued a medical career in the Navy was because of another figure in his life he looked up to who was right in his own family. He had an older cousin who graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and became a doctor in the Army.
"He was like a role model for me, so I thought I would do him one better and instead of going to VMI, I went to West Point," said Sakakini.
Upon his second year at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Sakakini decided he did not want to pursue his medical career as a soldier and instead, finished out his education at Hampden-Sydney College, where he graduated in 1973.
When he did his interview for medical school at Eastern Virginia Medical School, one of the members of the admissions committee, the commanding officer at Portsmouth
Naval Hospital, asked him if he would take a Navy Scholarship upon acceptance and he said, "absolutely."
Though the next two decades were filled with time on active duty, the naval reserves, and as a civilian, Sakakini made a decision to go back on active duty in August 1998, and it was a decision he would not regret.
Soon after his arrival at Parris Island in November 2003, the Navy was tasked with providing medical officers to help support the amount of casualties coming into Landstuhl, and Sakakini jumped at the opportunity. After no more than 10 days here, he was on his way to Germany on his first deployment in support of a combat mission.
"While I was heading over there, I didn't really know what to expect ... I thought I would just be back filling in, in an emergency room or something like that," he said. "But because of the timing, once I got over there, the doctor that was in charge of the mission at Landstuhl in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom was needed elsewhere. He approached me and asked if I would take the position and I said, 'Sure, I'll take it.'"
From then on, according to Sakakini, the command gave him ownership of the entire mission.
"If it had OIF or OEF on it, I was ultimately responsible for it,' he said.
He said one of the biggest pieces of his job, besides making sure everyone got good care, was keeping track of all the patients.
"When the war first started, Landstuhl was really not prepared for that mission," he said. "All the sudden, they had all these patients showing up at their doorstep and they really weren't sure of what to do with them. They had a ton of patients they had to deal with and keep track of, and that need gave birth to the Deployed Warrior Medical Management Center."
According to Sakakini, the troop load could get up to around 100 a day and throughout the duration of his nine-month stay, they had about 10,000 patients come through the medical center.
"One of the things that was developed right before I got there, that I really got to work with, was a very sophisticated data base that was involved with tracking the patients," said Sakakini.
As result of the hard work put forth by Sakakini and his staff at Landstuhl, the Department of Defense recognized the significance of the new, user-friendly data system and implemented it DoD-wide.
Because of his experiences in Germany, Sakakini plans on staying active duty until retiring from the Navy. Upon returning to Parris Island in February, he has found a new sense of pride and motivation in his work.
"The best part of the whole thing I had to deal with over there, was working with the Marines, he said. "The Marines set the standard over there. Coming back to Parris Island has renewed my motivation of how important it is, our mission here, to make Marines."