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Maine Coast Doctor a Decorated Veteran

In recognition of Dr. Carreño’s service, this article was originally published on The Ellsworth American in November 10, 2009 under the headline “Maine Coast Doctor a Decorated Veteran”. Here you can read the full article:

Ellsworth American

Dr. Carreno military portrait
Dr. Carreño military portrait

A Head and Neck Surgeon with Maine Coast Memorial Hospital since 2007, Carreño received a Navy commendation in 2002 for distinguished service in Afghanistan during “Operation Swift Freedom/Enduring Freedom,” the nation’s official name for its war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The commendation cites Lt. Cmdr. Carreño’s leadership and surgical skills in making the medical mission at Qandahar a success.

“His example was an inspiration to the troops and his colleagues and was in the finest tradition of the Medical Corps of the United States Naval Service,” the commendation concludes.

One of several examples of Carreño’s distinguished service cited in the commendation involves his first few hours at the Qandahar Airfield. Carreño arrived at the airfield the night after it had been secured by U.S. forces. The area was still surrounded by minefields.

“Less than eight hours after arriving at Qandahar, before any adequate medical facility could be established, a call was received by Dr. Carreño that three Marines had been injured by a mine explosion at the west end of the runway,” the commendation says. “Dr. Carreño arrived at the scene within minutes. With no thought for his personal safety, he entered the minefield and assumed control of the emergency situation. Employing a tourniquet, he saved the life of one Marine whose foot had been traumatically amputated by the explosion. He subsequently oversaw the extraction of all three Marines and other personnel from the site and had the three Marines medevac’d to definitive care.”

Carreño recalls carrying an 80-pound backpack loaded with supplies on the mile-long trek to the airfield from the helicopter landing zone where he had disembarked. He observed that a building had been “blown to shreds, a lot of blood stains but no bodies.”
He had been setting up camp for about an hour when he received word that the Marines on patrol had wandered into a minefield a couple of miles away and the battalion doctor needed a trained surgeon.

“It was me. There was no one else,” Carreño said. “So, I start to run over there with my first aid kit, and I get picked up by a Navy SEAL driving a truck. We had to dodge craters, then zip to the area. A few hundred feet away are three Marines on the ground and a couple of guys working on them — a lot of screaming, of course.”

The Navy SEAL met up with an explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) specialist, who called to Carreño: “C’mon over, Doc.”

Carreño approached and said, “I hope you guys can guide me there.”

“Just step where I step, Doc,” advised the EOD specialist.

Carreño said he did just that, “not thinking about anything but helping that guy.” He reached the badly injured Marine and assessed the situation.

“Nothing’s been done,” he said. “The guy’s leg is blown off, and the other two Marines are splattered with a combination of dirt and blood. It’s the look of somebody that has been wounded by an explosive. All three had that look.”

Carreño applied a tourniquet and administered other aid to stabilize the Marine. Then the EOD specialist said: “We can’t get them out yet because I haven’t cleared a path.”

“At that point, I realized I just ran through a live minefield,” Carreño said.

Carreño was part of a Marine Expeditionary Force, and although conditions would improve greatly within a year, most of his time in Afghanistan lacked anything but very basic necessities and he employed his surgical skills under the worst possible conditions.

“Dr. Carreño’s exemplary selflessness and courage were further in evidence when the airfield came under a night attack,” the commendation reads. “During the ensuing fire fight directly to the north of the medical compound, Dr. Carreño remained in the emergency tent providing for the Afghani citizens under his care.”

“My experience there was very much what people traditionally think of as a war experience — a lot of destruction, wounded and mortally wounded, wearing the same clothes day in and day out, eating MREs [meals ready to eat] and freezing your butt off,” Carreño said. “That was very much my experience.”