Brazilian-born medic shares life-saving skills with Afghans
June 9, 2011
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, June 8, 2011 -- “I don’t think I adopted America. America adopted me,” Brazilian-born Army Cpl. Joel M. Kuhn said as he sat outside of Nangalam Base in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province.
As a boy, Kuhn, a combat medic assigned to 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Cacti, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco, looked up to his father and cousins, who were in the Brazilian army.
When Kuhn first thought about enlisting in the U.S. Army, he said, he was on a work visa in Glendale, Calif., and looking for something else to do that not only was exciting, but also would help to pay his bills. He decided to become a combat medic in 2008 because of an enlistment bonus, and he called his mother in Brazil to tell her the good news.
“The first thing she asked me if my [specialty] had to work with the infantry on the front lines or if I would be working in a hospital setting,” Kuhn said. “I told her, 'You know, I never asked that before. That should be one of the questions that I should have asked my recruiter.'”
Kuhn smiled and shook his head.
“But I told her, 'The way that things are going, the way I see it, I will probably be working with the infantry,’” he said. “And I guess I was right.”
Now, on his second combat tour with the infantry, Kuhn couldn't have been more right. Most days, he treats troops in combat, and on some days, he trains troops what to do in combat.
“All right, let's say your battle buddy gets shot in the leg. Where do you want to put the tourniquet to stop the bleeding?” Kuhn asked Afghan soldiers during medical training at Nangalam Base. He patiently waited for a response, then asked the soldier who answered to show him how to put a tourniquet on properly.
Sgt. Nathan A. Timmons, an infantry team leader, said Kuhn behaves in the same way at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, their home station.
“You don’t know something, he’ll spend the time to teach you,” he said. “He likes to help people -- likes to make sure they are doing the right thing. All in all, I think it’s good for him, [and] good for everybody else, as well.”
Timmons deployed with Kuhn during a dangerous tour in Iraq.
“I would not take any other medic if I had a choice, and that’s the God’s honest truth,” he said. “Just the way he is, I mean. I’ve seen some medics who know their job. By all means, our medics are good, but Kuhn goes above and beyond.”
In a matter of three months in Iraq, Kuhn's truck was blown up about nine times, Timmons said. Every time, Kuhn used his skills to help his comrades on the battlefield.
“No fear, like I said. He’s quick on his feet, knows his job, treats everybody the same,” Timmons explained. “I can even think back to when he helped some Iraqi guys back when they got wounded. Doesn’t really much matter to him what country they’re from. He takes care of everybody equally and treats everybody the same.”
Now, Kuhn is helping Afghans.
“If medics aren't there when we're on patrols, then we have to step up and treat each other,” said Sgt. Fati Shah Meenawal, an Afghan army infantryman. Like many other troops to whom Kuhn teaches combat lifesaver techniques, Meenwal already has been in situations where this training would have been helpful.
“On a previous combat patrol, in Nuristan, four of our soldiers got wounded by insurgent gunfire,” Meenwal said. “We tried to get all of them evacuated, but only evacuated three soldiers. We realized the fourth soldier wasn't put on the vehicle. We went back for him and had to use our own medical knowledge to save him.”
Trainers like Kuhn, who are patient, experienced and invested in helping others, can really make the difference between life and death, the Afghan soldier added.
“Today's training was very good and helpful,” he said. “But these are skills not just for combat. Perhaps even when we are not on patrol, we can use these skills to help the local citizens that get hurt in a car accident, for example.”
Kuhn agreed, and said helping people, no matter where they come from, is a part of who he is.
“Over here, these guys are so isolated.The only Americans that they see here are us,” he said. “Being in the military is not just giving back to America, because we are not just doing good for America.
“We’re not just doing good for people back home,” he added, “but we are doing good for the populations in other countries also.”