“Better to Win a Heart…

…than to pierce it.”

Which of these youths is more likely to become a suicide bomber?

Iraqi boy stares at the rubble of his former home after an American strike.

Indonesian child greets U.S. Navy helicopter flying in water and supplies after the 2004 tsunami.

Sometimes, we have to blow things up, and people get hurt — even innocent people. Then our military medical forces try to put them back together, no matter for which side they fought, or from where they came.

Medical personnel assess an Afghan man on Forward Operating Base Farah,
Afghanistan, Dec. 26, 2012. The soldiers are assigned to the 541st Forward
Surgical Team. (DOD Photo)

U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Laura Cook performs an ultrasound on a wounded Afghan
policeman to determine the presence of internal injuries on Forward
Operating Base Farah in Afghanistan’s Farah province, Dec, 31, 2012. Cook is
a physician assistant for Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah. Medical
personnel assigned to the team, the 541st Forward Surgical Team and
coalition medics treated four members of the Afghan National Police injured
by improvised explosive devices. (DOD Photo)

In ten years of supporting combat forces in the Middle East, military medicine has achieved unprecedented success in saving lives. The reason: Bring world class medical resources and rapid evacuation as close as possible to the point of injury. The result: If you are wounded in action and arrive with a pulse at a forward surgical resuscitation site, your odds of survival are 98% unheard of in any other conflict since the world and its wars began.

What if we never had to use that world class capability to patch up victims of warfare? What if we could deploy our medical forces to win the hearts of minds of people before they become our enemies?

We’ve been doing that too, all around the globe, all military services, all operational platforms. Much of that effort has concentrated on the Western Pacific, a volatile area that our national leadership has designated as the next focus of national defense attention.

Military medicine has been there for decades, extending the hand of peace to a diverse range of people and places — most notably our response to natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami that impacted Indonesia, and the recent triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, nuclear power meltdown) that affected our friends in Japan.

Personnel from the Air Force HARRT (Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team) unloads supplies in relief for the 2009 Indonesian earthquake disaster
Less than a day after they flew into the disaster zone, the Air Force medics were fully operational and treating victims of the disaster

Every year the U.S. Navy deploys one of it’s hospital ships on a humanitarian assistance mission, alternating between the Western Pacific and the Caribbean/South America. Staffed with medical expertise from all services, international military medical partners, and non-governmental volunteers, these missions bring world class medical care to people whose lives have not been as fortunate as ours. More important, they bring caring and friendship that endures long after the ship sails away to its next port.

USNS MERCY sails near Southeast Asia in Operation Pacific Partnership

As we begin a new year, the conflicts in the Middle East move into their second decade. Let us earnestly hope and pray that we will begin to see the end of wars, and the emergence of world peace — and, all around the globe, the faces of happy children.

 — With thanks to my good friends and colleagues: Bob Kiser, who provided some of these photos; and Doug Anderson, who coined the phrase, “Better to win a heart than to pierce it.”