2006 Navy Times
Winner
Cmdr. Louis Tripoli
Reserve Operational Support Unit National Naval Medical Center

Served as surgeon with Marine Corps 4th Civil Affairs Group

BETHESDA, Md. - Cmdr. Louis Tripoli knew that civilians injured in the November 2004 battle of Fallujah, Iraq, would die if they didn't get medical care before the shooting stopped.

So as Marines and insurgents battled from street to street, he flew into the city to help reopen its main hospital. When he found that the hospital did not have enough medical supplies to treat the wounded, he arranged to have them shipped from abroad.

When a supply convoy was one corpsman short, Tripoli volunteered to travel with it - a position that Navy doctors were not obligated to fill.

And when he learned that an Iraqi infant would die if she did not receive medical treatment abroad, he created a system that saved the girl and dozens of other Iraqi children.

For these reasons, Tripoli is the Navy Times 2005 Sailor of the Year.

Tripoli, a Navy Reserve doctor who works as a medical officer for more than 300 prisons and jails in civilian life, credited months of training at various U.S. bases, including several days at a mock Iraqi city built on a former adult film lot, for giving him the confidence to perform well in a combat environment.

"The Navy and Marine Corps made me into somebody who was useful in a war," he said. "I didn't think I could do it, but they showed me how."

After Marines took control of Fallujah following the November 2004 battle, Tripoli and 24 other members of the Marine Corps' 4th Civil Affairs Group arrived in the city to find it plagued by poor public sanitation, outbreaks of rabies and hepatitis, a barely functioning electrical grid and a defunct local government.

"We found tons and tons of military ordnance," he said. "Before we got there, an Army doctor had been killed by incoming fire while talking on the phone to his dad. We took incoming fire every day."

The group, which included a former commercial airline pilot, a Naval War College instructor, an Egyptian-born Navy physician's assistant and an Army civil affairs officer, drew on a diverse set of skills to address the needs of Iraqi civilians - from properly caring for dead bodies to holding regular meetings with city leaders.

"I was there with the dream team," Tripoli said. "It was the right group of people at the right time … to solve these problems."

Their work extended beyond Fallujah.

In late 2004, Tripoli learned that an Iraqi man had been visiting the nearby American prison at Abu Ghraib daily for several weeks, asking U.S. troops to help his infant daughter, who had tumors growing in her neck. The tumors, while benign, were gradually cutting off her airway, and eventually would have suffocated her.

Iraqi doctors told Tripoli they were unable to perform surgery to remove the growths, and U.S. civil affairs officials told him of the bureaucratic hurdles involved in taking Iraqi citizens out of the country for medical treatment.

Tripoli was not deterred. He worked with State Department officials to get a visa for the girl to travel to South Carolina for treatment. He also found an American doctor who was willing to perform the surgery for free.

Tripoli's parents traveled to Jordan to pick up the girl. His father, a former Navy doctor, examined her there and found that she also suffered from a hole in her heart. The girl was taken to South Carolina, where she was treated successfully for both conditions.

Since then, Tripoli has spearheaded the creation of a system that would allow other Iraqi children to leave the country for treatment.

He said that system has allowed approximately 24 Iraqi children to receive medical treatment in the U.S., Turkey and other nations. It has since been expanded to allow Iraqi adults to seek medical treatment in other countries.

Tripoli is proud of his time in Iraq.

"It was something I would never trade," he said. "It was one of the most positive experiences of my life. I think it was worth it and it made the world a better place."