Fairfax native who served as nurse at Abu Ghraib to return for Veterans Day program

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Deanna Germain pulled one of the worst possible assignments as a nursing supervisor at the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Deanna Germain pulled one of the worst possible assignments as a nursing supervisor at the now infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

She had a few things going for her, including being a native of Fairfax in Renville County. Her hometown and county never forgot her, said Germain, 56, now back at her home in Blaine.

She is returning on Sunday to say thanks to Renville County at the Veteran's Day program in Fairfax. She will give an informal presentation on the book she co-authored with Connie Lounsbury on her experiences in Iraq: "Reach Past the Wire, A Nurse at Abu Ghraib."

"I just really appreciate the people of Renville County for doing what they are doing for the soldiers,'' said Germain.

Germain described the activation orders she received in Feb. 2002 to mobilize for Iraq as "one of the lowest days of my life.'' She would be leaving her husband, children and new grandchild behind for an uncertain assignment.


Harder still was what she found at Abu Ghraib. She arrived shortly after the troubling images of prisoner abuse spread around the world. .

She spent long, hard days caring for the injured from both sides of the war. In her book, she describes the anguish of being unable to save the life of a Marine. Moments later, she was at work saving the life of the Arab man who may have killed the Marine.

Life at Abu Ghraib was a test of physical stamina. Temperatures rose to 130 degrees. Electric and water services were intermittent. Mortar attacks were frequent. Insurgents planted bombs about the grounds.

Hardest of all, Germain said, was the separation from loved ones and the unexpected extensions in her service. She described the extension as "traumatic'' on both her and her fellow soldiers.

Her initial, six-month assignment turned into 18 months of service in Kuwait and Iraq. The orders for her third extension came when she was already packed for the trip home.

Germain said she wrote her book to put a human face on war.

The book is about the "price paid on both sides," she said.

Germain said she returned home changed by the experience and appreciates all the simple things. She learned a few things since coming home, too. She has come to understand how much her family had sacrificed along with her. "It took me a while to realize how much my husband and family went through while I was gone,'' she said.


Since publishing the book, Germain said she has also discovered just how much people want to know about the experience of U.S. service personnel in Iraq. People are looking for ways to show their appreciation to them, she said. They ask her how they can.

Servicemen and women from small towns have an advantage, she said. Their home communities tend to rally behind their troops and support them overseas.

She saw the benefits of it. In Kuwait, she and other nurses got a hold of a laundry machine so that servicemen could wash uniforms that were sometimes filthy and smelly behind description. Folks back in Fairfax supported the makeshift venture by sending boxes and boxes of laundry soap, said Germain.

Later, in her cramped cell at Abu Ghraib, she also received the care packages of treats and personal items from Renville County that made life more tolerable.

The Veteran's Day observance will be held from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Fairfax Legion. A pork chop dinner is offered as a fund raiser for the Renville Veteran's Service program.

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