News>Deployment Journal: Staying focused on 'big picture' sometimes difficult
BALA MURGHAB, Afghanistan -- Mohammad Agazam, Afghan National Policeman, arrives at Forward Operating Base Todd, Baghdis Province, Afghanistan, April 8, 2011, after being medical air evacuated from his checkpoint, where he was attacked and suffered two gunshot wounds to his right leg. After a medical evaluation at FOB Todd, Agazam was transferred to an Afghan National Army hospital for follow up and rehabilitation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace)
BALA MURGHAB, Afghanistan -- U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brett Welden (left) medically examines Afghan National Policeman Mohammad Agazam at Forward Operating Base Todd, Baghdis Province, Afghanistan, April 8, 2011. Agazam was attacked at his police checkpoint and suffered two gunshot wounds to his right leg. After a medical evaluation at FOB Todd, Agazam was transferred to an Afghan National Army hospital for follow up and rehabilitation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace)
by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
4/22/2011 - BALA MURGHAB, Afghanistan -- I watched an 8-year-old boy undergo surgery after an improvised explosive device nearly killed him.
Though witnessing that surgery capped my week, there was a long road leading up to it.
Still covering missions in Bala Murghab (BMG), and isolated valley in northern Baghdis Province, Afghanistan, and realizing I hadn't covered the Forward Surgical Team, I staged near their clinic and responded to an array of air medical evacuations throughout the week.
Medical care is still in short supply in BMG, and for serious injuries, locals must come to Forward Operating Base Todd. This is an issue some feel may be a hinge pin in their decision to support their government or the insurgency.
"We have [Afghan National Army] and coalition soldiers come through our villages and tell us we should support our government. At the same time, we have neighbors who tell us we should support their cause," said 35-year-old Adul Samad.
Samad said he suffered a gunshot wound to his foot from a ricochet, while herding sheep in Joygange Village.
"We never know which is really best for our people. But, when I was shot, there was only one hospital capable of helping me, and that was the coalition clinic [at FOB Todd]," continued Mr. Samad. "I wish everyone in Joygange could see the coalition helped me and there's hope in our government, and I also hope someday the government can support us with a hospital and medicine in this valley."
As the FST staff treated Mr. Samad's wounds, they simultaneously re-evaluated 45-year-old Adul Nadil, also from Joygange. The doctors recently removed tumors from Mr. Nadil, and were following up.
As FOB Todd's coalition medical staff was treating Mr. Samad and Mr. Nadil, Afghan National Army Pvt. Awozo Balla, a 21-year-old soldier, entered the clinic, complaining of an infected foot.
The medical staff evaluated Private Balla and discovered he had an infected toe, which was likely infected for as long as two months.
U.S. Army Dr. (Maj.) Ron Durbin, general surgeon from Fort Benning, Ga., had two choices: amputate the soldier's toe or send him to the ANA hospital at Camp Zafar, Herat, for long-term care. The doctor decided to send Private Balla to Herat and attempt to save his toe.
That day's chaos soon intensified for the small FST because as they were finishing up with the ANA soldier, news arrived that an Afghan National Police check point was hit, and a police officer was being medical air evacuated to FOB Todd.
"When a patient comes through the door and chaos cuts loose, we just have to keep our heads on our shoulders and let our training kick in," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Jason Spurlock, trauma nurse from the 779th Medical Group, Andrew's Air Force Base, Md.
When the ANP officer arrived, Doctor Durbin and other members of his crew hurried out to the helicopter and returned with 22-year-old Mohammad Agazam.
Officer Agazam was attacked at his police checkpoint and suffered two gunshot wounds to his right leg.
The trauma team removed his tourniquet, cut off his clothes, and verified his two wounds and that he had no other injuries. They stopped his bleeding and then moved him in for an X-Ray.
The bullets had entered and exited without hitting any vital arteries or bones, said U.S. Army Dr. (Maj.) David Parker, general surgeon from Fort Carson, Colo.
After his treatment at FOB Todd, Officer Agazam was transferred to Camp Zafar for follow up and rehabilitation.
Reeling back to the 8-year-old boy, I watched him nearly die on the operating table when his heart stopped.
Spc. Paul Jorgenson, an FST medic, quickly jumped up onto the operating table and began performing cardio pulmonary resuscitation. The boy's heartbeat resumed and the FST surgeons continued by opening his chest cavity and examining his internal organs for wounds or bleeding.
For the FST professionals who are charged with treating any patient, even an enemy insurgent, the boy was another wounded life in desperate need of medical care.
However, I have to admit that his presence rang a completely different tune in my ears.
I couldn't help but think about my own 9-year-old son and daughters and wonder what kind of people plant IEDs in their own villages. What world was this child born into that walking down the road, he could step on a landmine or IED at any time.
My children all play in the yard, or around the neighborhood, and I never give them stepping on an IED a second thought.
Is that world possible here?
I admit that 90 percent of the time, I'm convinced it is. However, I also admit that after being nearly killed many times over, being struck by a rocket propelled grenade in combat and watching the aftermath of these conflicts in an operating room, I began to feel a bit down on prospects.
Then something happened.
As the doctors stabilized the boy and prepared him for an air medivac to Camp Arena, Herat, a larger field hospital, I made eye contact with his father. Though we spoke not a word, I could see gratitude in his eyes.
Would the tale that coalition medics saved his son be told in his village?
I sure hope so.
Moreover, I remembered the words of a friend I fought in combat with last week.
"We are key to relating to the people because we hail from this community," said ANA Company Sgt. Ali Ghouse, a Kandahar native and 7-year veteran of conflicts in BMG. "Coalition forces bring immense capability and training to the table, but ultimately we will be the army who sustains peace in this country for years to come."
What we are doing here is vitally important, but merely a step in a much larger process. I began to feel selfish for detesting my situation.
I'll go back to England in mere months, Sergeant Ghouse and his men will carry on the fight for years to come.
More and more, I'm convinced they're ready.
Sergeant Ghouse risked his life to save my friend, a U.S. Army scout, in the very same battle which I was stuck by that RPG.
He said he was just doing his job.
According to the 19-year-old scout, whom may not be alive if it were not for Sergeant Ghouse, he was doing quite a bit more than just his job.
"I had massive amounts of small-arms fire coming at me," recalled Spc. William Newland, 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, who hails from West Union, Ohio. "[Sergeant Ghouse] grabbed my shoulders and threw me to the ground and then he covered me with his own body. He stayed there until there was a break in incoming fire."
I hope when ANA soldiers begin to feel week, as I did in that operating room, they'll reflect on what their coalition friends told them our homelands are like.
I pray they'll carry on the fight to ensure future generations of Afghans may play in their streets without stepping on mines and IEDs, that this beautiful land will someday see peace.
"Though we, (the ANA,) share similar genetics to the people we serve, I've seen that Americans have their hearts in this conflict and history will show that. When the day comes that we must take complete control of Bala Murghab on our own, we will be prepared to do so," said Sergeant Ghouse. "Peace will come to this valley."