United States Department of Veterans Affairs
 Health Care
"I Understand; I'm a Vet, Too"

Second Lieutenant Cole B. Griggs called his mother, Iva, from Germany jubilantly reporting his year-long tour in Iraq was over. She was thrilled and the two celebrated for a few minutes before she paused. "I have some news too," she said.

"I have to report to Ft. Bragg tomorrow."

It was her turn to go to Iraq.

A VA nurse by trade, Iva was also an Army Reservist. She'd never mobilized in more than 20 years, so she was surprised when she was called.

She would live and work at Baghdad's Camp Victory for 12 months. Though Griggs had been a nurse since she was 19, she was now a Civil Affairs officer. She went from being Iva Griggs, RN, to Iva Griggs, Deputy Chief of Plans with Multi-National Corps, Iraq.

She was assigned to Civil Affairs because forces were short-staffed after so many military personnel had been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Griggs in full gear for a meeting at the Joint Visitors Bureau. The bureau, a hotel for visiting dignitaries and Congressional delegates, was Saddam Hussein's hunting lodge.
Griggs in full gear for a meeting at the Joint Visitors Bureau. The bureau, a hotel for visiting dignitaries and Congressional delegates, was Saddam Hussein's hunting lodge.

Qualified on Weapons - Prepared for IEDs

Griggs spent nine weeks in the classroom and nine weeks tactical training in the field. She went on convoy missions, qualified on various weapons, performed building clearances, and became skilled in search techniques and war zone survival techniques, including rollover drills, useful in case she encountered an improvised explosive device (IED).

"That was a big issue. When explosions happen, you have to know how to get out of the vehicle and survive," said Griggs.

According to Iva, the mission of Civil Affairs is to "win the hearts and minds of the populace," providing basic services needed to rebuild Iraq, like water, electricity, and healthcare, as well as measures to establish and restore the government, including elections and the rule of law.

Griggs worked to improve security initiatives, collaborated with the banking industry to stimulate the economy, and helped create jobs. She planned major missions in Baghdad, working closely with the State Department, military personnel from other countries, and the Iraqi government, military, and police force.

Long Days Interrupted with "Incoming!"

A typical day started around 7:00 a.m., sometimes lasting until 10:00 p.m. "Every day was a long day, which was okay because what else are you going to do?" Griggs said.

Her activities and her sleep were punctuated with frequent rocket attacks.

"There were announcements over the PA system. We'd hear 'Incoming, incoming,' and you'd have 10 seconds to get prone or facedown. When the rockets hit, they burst and shrapnel goes out. One of the ways to survive is to get prone so the shrapnel will go over your head. A lot of alarms were false, but you never knew."

Iva Griggs passes out treats to Iraqi children at a Civil Military Operations Center where healthcare, legal assistance and food was made available to Iraqis.
Iva Griggs passes out treats to Iraqi children at a Civil Military Operations Center where healthcare, legal assistance and food was made available to Iraqis.

Men + Women = Soldiers All

Rocket attacks weren't the only challenge in Baghdad.

"I was a reservist for many years and we thought we were all going to Iraq together," said Griggs. "But I got picked up by myself and didn't know anyone. I had to build relationships and friendships all over again."

The job was also physically demanding. Between her helmet, vest, and ammo, Griggs sometimes carried between 50 and 70 pounds of equipment.

Although Iva worked predominantly with men, she noticed there were more women mobilizing now since women first started serving in the military.

"I rode in many a convoy where a female was the gunner up in the hatch. Once you get out of training, everybody is a soldier and you are expected to contribute, whatever happens."

"I understand; I'm a Vet, Too"

Griggs returned from Iraq in March 2008. She is back at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, working as a clinical surgical coordinator. One of the first things patients notice is the "Veteran" notation on her nametag.

"I think there's a bond when they know you've served," Iva said. "When patients are upset and frustrated with a situation, I approach them and say, 'I understand. I'm a Vet too.'" From Iraq to Ohio, Griggs continues to improve the lives of those in her care.

"There's a perception that nurses can do anything," Griggs said, "And really, they can."

By Hans Petersen, VA Staff Writer