Some 200 Iowa National Guardsmen are now providing medical care to other soldiers and civilians in hurricane-torn coastal Mississippi. One leader of the all-volunteer Task Force Iowa is Lieutenant Colonel Dan Darland, who heads Iowa City’s 109th Medical Battalion. They’ve set up massive tents, much like on the TV show M*A*S*H, to temporarily replace local hospitals that were leveled by Katrina. The Iowans are also performing other vital duties, like purifying water and transporting supplies. Darland says he’s working directly with the Mississippi state surgeon, who “knows his people, knows the area and is just so thankful that we’re here to help them.” The primary task is to provide health care support in two locations — one in Gulfport, mostly for soldiers, and the other in Bay Saint Louis where there’s no civilian hospital left so they’ll support both civilians and the military there. In his normal life, the 40-year-old Darland manages a Maquoketa laboratory that does soil and water testing. Darland, who has a wife and three children in De Witt, says it’s an honor to serve the people of Mississippi on the Iowa National Guard team.Darland says “Everyone should be real proud of our soldiers and airmen who agreed to disrupt their lives for an unknown period of time, leave their families behind for their spouses to take over. At a moment’s notice, they just drop and leave whenever called.” The original mission called for Task Force Iowa to be in Mississippi three to six months, but he says they may be coming home much sooner. Darland, a Davenport native and University of Iowa graduate, says the widespread destruction on the Gulf Coast is heart-rending to try and describe — though he’s trained long for this type of mission and says it’s very rewarding to be there, getting the job done.
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