Originally published April 13, 2007

The 399th Combat Support Hospital includes two married couples from Maine – Sgt. Jossary Gerry and Sgt. Brandon Gerry of Standish, and Spc. Jessica Verreault and Sgt. Tim Verreault of Auburn. Neither couple has children – and both say deploying together makes their year here a lot easier.
The Verreaults, who met during Army Reserve training school, celebrated their first anniversary Sunday.
“I wasn’t going to let her come over here without her being my wife. I wanted to make that commitment to her – it’s just the nature of it,” said Tim Verreault, who works in the 399th’s emergency medical treatment unit and is studying to become a registered nurse at the University of Southern Maine.
Jessica Verreault, a nurse in the 399th’s intensive care unit, said the talk back in the room they share in the barracks isn’t all war, all the time. In fact, after a particularly rough day, sometimes there’s no talk at all.
“Some days you just kind of look at him and think, ‘OK, he doesn’t need to talk about what happened. He just needs me to be next to him” Jessica said.
For the Gerrys, who celebrate their second anniversary in June, married life here isn’t much different from back home in Maine: They both work as respiratory therapists at Maine Medical Center in Portland.
“When both of us get home and are finally able to relax and look at the pine trees in the backyard, we’ll both know what we’ve gone through. We’ve shared the same experience,” said Jossary Gerry.
Looking over at her husband, she added, “I think it’s making us stronger as a couple.”
Two words are absolutely forbidden within the confines of the 399th Combat Support Hospital.
One is quiet, as in, “Things have sure been quiet lately.”
The other is slow, as in, “Slow day, huh?”
“You can’t say the ‘q’ word and you can’t say the ‘s’ word. Neither ‘q’ nor ‘s,’ ” instructed Maj. Cathy McKenney of Portland. “You can say that it’s subdued or it’s calm, but not those other two.”
Why not?
Nurse McKenney cast a superstitious glance toward the ceiling of the intermediate care ward.
“Because,” she replied quietly – sorry, in a subdued tone. “Someone out there hears you say it.”
 Even intensive care unit nurses, at least a few of them, enjoy taking time out of Operation Iraqi Freedom for a good smoke.
They call themselves “The Girls Cigar Club.” And whenever they get the chance, says Capt. Rebecca Scheible, they gather on their barracks roof, at the Green Bean coffee shop or “wherever we can” for a good stogie – or not.
“Sarah (Capt. Sarah Burns of Ohio) doesn’t actually smoke them,” said Scheible, who graduated from Sanford High School in 1996 (she was Becky Schultze back then) and now lives in Southbridge, Mass. “Sarah likes those little flavored ones, but most of the time she just sits there and holds one.”
Scheible, on the other hand, has become a dedicated Macanudo fan, “although my tastes seem to be getting more and more expensive as time goes on.”
But really. Nurses smoking cigars? Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?
Not on a hardscrabble military base in Iraq, there isn’t.
“All of our other vices are gone,” Scheible protested with a big smile. “We have to have at least one!”
 Spc. Mark Shephard, 22, of Portland, Ore., forever will be grateful to the surgical team here at the 399th Combat Support Hospital – and not because the team saved him from a combat wound.
Shephard was riding in an 82nd Airborne convoy to Contingency Operating Base Speicher early this week when “I felt this pain in my gut. And all of a sudden it started to get bad, real bad.”
“I got stabbed when I was 18. And I’ve broken bones,” Shephard said. “But this was by far the worst pain I’ve ever been in.”
Unable to stand it any longer, he walked across the base and checked himself into the 399th CSH. Less than two hours later, he was in surgery for a perforated ulcer.
“They told me I could have died,” said Shephard, who has a wife and a month-old daughter back in Oregon.
He’s on the mend now – and as of Thursday afternoon, was en route to the Army’s Landsthul Regional Medical Center in Germany. But before he boarded his Air Force C-130 medevac, the young soldier had a few words to say about the 399th.
“Oh my God, this is the best medical staff I’ve ever seen,” said Shephard. “And I’d sure like them to be recognized for that.”
Mission accomplished, Spc. Shephard.

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