Combat medics treat Afghan locals, provide healthcare to remote villages
August 1, 2009
- 1-4 Inf. Regt. combat medics treat Soldiers and local Afghans
- Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world
- Afghanistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world
- Average life expectancy age in Afghanistan is only 44 years
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- In a garrison environment, medics operate sick-call clinics for ill or injured Soldiers. On the frontlines, medics stabilize severely-wounded troops long enough for a medical evacuation to a field hospital. At Forward Operating Base Baylough, two medics of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, use their medical skills for not only their fellow Soldiers but also local Afghans.
Although a medic's chief mission is to care for Soldiers, Afghanistan has one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world with an average life expectancy of only 44 years. Because of this lack of medical care, Spc. Chad E. Brown from Red Oak, Texas, and Spc. Rodrigus I. Purdiman from Cairo, Ill., treat ill or injured locals.
"The impression we try to leave is that America is here to help them in their lives and not to hurt them in any kind of way," said Purdiman.
Assigned to austere FOB Baylough, Purdiman and Brown rotate their duties. One medic operates the FOB aid station where Soldiers report when feeling ill or when injured, while the other medic accompanies Soldiers on daily patrols. Most of the patrols trek through mountainous terrain to local villages within the Deh Chopan district, Zabul province.
"When we're on patrol we provide aid -- humanitarian aid or first aid for citizens," said Brown.
On occasion, villagers approach Soldiers for medical care. Usually, the 1-4 Inf. Regt. patrol leader will ask village leaders if anyone is ill or injured. Some patients cannot be treated with supplies from the medic's aid bag.
"The hard part is they don't like to come in, for whatever reason, on their own," said Brown. "But I'll urge them to come into the aid station and let me take care of them a lot better than in the field."
The FOB Baylough aid station contains basic wound-cleansing equipment and bandages, as well as pain medication. The most high-tech equipment in the station is an oxygen tank, said Brown.
Even though helicopter flights to FOB Baylough are often sporadic due to enemy fire, the aid station has never exhausted its medical supplies.
"We're able to do what we're trained to, with what we have, but there's a lot of improvisation," said Brown.
Burns, especially among children, are the most common injuries that the medics see in the remote villages around FOB Baylough. Since there is no electricity, villagers use fire for everything from cooking to a light source. The medics have treated burn victims ranging in age from an infant to 10 years old.
The medics have also treated Afghans suffering wounds from exploded ordnances. If the wound is minor, the medics clean it and sew stitches. For more serious injuries, they request a medevac for transportation to the forward surgical team at FOB Lagman or to the Kandahar Airfield hospital. Since Brown was trained to insert chest tubes and sew sutures at a NATO-sponsored medical patrol course in Germany, he should be able to stabilize wounded Soldiers and civilians up to 72 hours, while waiting for evacuation.
Both medics believe the language barrier makes treating civilians difficult. Both try to read the body language of their patients, as well as demonstrate through their own body language their purpose to help. They always work with an interpreter, but there is no guarantee of an exact translation, explained Purdiman.
"It's hard to work on the kids, especially the young ones," said Brown. "I try to do the best that I can and not look like the big, bad American Soldier. I try to look like the good guy."
Soldiers at FOB Baylough occasionally receive care packages, sometimes with toys in them. The medics hand out these toys to comfort an ill or hurting child being treated at the aid station.
As Soldiers of the 1-4 Inf. Regt. continue to disrupt insurgent operations in the isolated areas below the surrounding Hindu Kush mountains, Brown and Purdiman carry on their own part by reaching out and helping the local populace through free medical care.