Afghan flight medic spurs evolution in medevac training
February 26, 2013
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Every Wednesday since late December, a man could be seen at the Kandahar Airfield sling load yard. He is the senior medical trainer at the Kandahar Air Wing clinic, and he comes to the yard for the flight portions of the partnered medical evacuation training administered by Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, Task Force Knighthawk.
This particular Wednesday, Feb. 13, a Knighthawk UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter descends and scatters rocks and debris about the yard. Other men stumble and crouch for stability, but the flight medic maintains his unflinching pose, his hands locked behind his back at parade rest.
His junior medics from the KAW emerge from the helicopter, recover a simulated patient, and load the patient into the helicopter. His steely gaze as he evaluates his men makes him seem a bust of the Afghan warrior spirit.
So when Britmal - sergeant in Dari - Abdul Majid Watandoost says, "I have sworn to Allah that I will stay in the Afghan air force forever, and defend Afghanistan as long as I live," you are inclined to believe him.
Watandoost became the first Kandahar Air Wing flight medic instructor to graduate from Knighthawk's Dustoff partnership program Feb. 13 at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. He's now poised to assume a pivotal role preparing junior flight medics to become instructors to foster an increased capability within the air wing.
Capt. Clint Lowe, one of the officers in charge of the partnered training, felt he caught a glimpse of the man's mettle in December, when Knighthawk first inherited the program.
"He's a very stoic individual, but in a way that reveals the passion for what he does," said Lowe.
Originally Lowe and his partner, Capt. Sean Richardson, planned to continue the basic combat care curriculum already in place. It was seeing Watandoost's advanced skill set which caused them to recast the course along the "train the trainer" model.
Sgt. Angel Navarro, a Charlie Company flight medic, observed Watandoost as he taught a lesson Feb. 5. Navarro had just returned from Forward Operating Base Pasab and was with the group for the first time. Instructed to supplement Watandoost's lesson, he instead found himself sitting aside as the master sergeant gave a master class in tactical combat casualty care - without a single PowerPoint slide.
"I was actually shocked," said Navarro, a Cleveland, Ohio, native. "It was all from his head, and I didn't have to say anything. No input, no corrections at any point."
Watandoost even sprinkled in some additional training in advanced cardiac life support for good measure.
Though his proficiency surprised and delighted the Knighthawk Dustoff team, Watandoost has studied with International Security Assistance Force partners for more than three years, first at the air force university in Kabul and later at the 205th Corps, Afghan National Army military hospital at Camp Hero in Kandahar.
He enlisted in his home province of Paktia, which saw heavy action in the early stages of Operation Enduring Freedom. Upon graduating from the Kabul Military Training Center, he was slated to be an engineer, but he appealed to become a medic instead.
"I just wanted to help the Wounded Warriors and all my Afghan brothers," he said.
His zeal has not gone unnoticed. He was promoted to master sergeant at the beginning of the month, due in large part to the consistent dedication he demonstrates.
"He's constantly looking to improve," said Command Sgt. Maj. Abdul Bashir, the senior flight medic supervisor at the KAW. "His dedication to self-development is outstanding and he strives to teach all he knows to all our medics."
Watandoost is not only an excellent model for his fellow medics, but he motivates his American counterparts as well, said Capt. Lowe.
"His professionalism, his eagerness to learn and impart his knowledge to the rest of the Air Wing incites us to put forth more effort and provide more resources and feedback," Lowe said.
Watandoost said his commitment to improvement through learning, studying, and teaching stems from his passion for Afghanistan's future.
"I believe Afghanistan will be self-reliant - but we have to work hard," he said. "What I've learned, and continue to learn, I must teach to the medics in my clinic, or we won't be able to do our mission."
The culminating event of the latest partnership course included the transportation of the simulated casualty to Camp Hero, a sign of the program's evolution, said Lowe. The focus has moved beyond patient care techniques to the full spectrum of medical evacuation procedures.
The other sign of its evolution is that Watandoost does not accompany the Black Hawk to Camp Hero. The additional space on that bird is for his trainees only. The Afghan Air Force's newest flight medic instructor weathers the airborne debris, unwaveringly watching a nation's progress take flight.