Petty Officer 3rd Class Liz J. Arevalo, a corpsman with Combat Logistics Battalion 5, looks over a young Afghan child during a village medical engagement, just outside a patrol base in Marjah. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Megan Sindelar.
MARJAH, Afghanistan (July 21, 2010) — Afghan cultural sensitivities can make medical treatment for women extremely difficult, forcing them to travel to the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, or even crossing national borders into Pakistan.
To improve the quality of life and healthcare for this sect of Afghan society, a team of female Marines and sailors embarked on a ten-day mission throughout northern Marjah July 5, to provide medical care to the Afghan people.
With the medical engagement consisting of females, this was the first time most of the visiting Afghan women received medical care.
The team, including a Marine female engagement team from Regimental Combat Team 7 and medical personnel from Combat Logistics Battalion 5, set up medical tents for two days each at four Marjah locations. The medical officer and corpsman treated 97 patients, primarily women and children.
Site 1: Initial Disappointment
Upon arriving at Combat Outpost Coutou late July 5, the team crashed in their tent on cots to relax and get some much needed sleep before their first medical engagement. The next day, after struggling to set up two tents and preparing their medical equipment, the Marines waited seven hours for patients to arrive. To their disappointment, no one came out and they decided to leave.
The next morning, the Marines headed back hoping to find Afghans seeking medical aid.
“If we only see one person, this will be a success,” said Navy Lt. Jisun Hahn, a medical officer with CLB-5.
The day proved to be successful, with 13 people showing up. After breaking down both tents and medical equipment, the Marines headed back to the COP for rest before their departure the next morning.
Site 2: Just a Couple More
The Marines jumped on an early-morning convoy headed to COP Reilly, July 7. Having arrived late in the afternoon, they relaxed and got some sleep before setting up their next site.
The Marines awoke around 6 a.m., got ready and headed out to the new site to, once again, set up their medical tents.
This site saw five Afghans the first day, including a small Afghan child whose body was covered in a horrible rash. It resembled chicken pox, but her feet were peeling so badly she couldn’t walk.
“I felt sorry because she looked so miserable,” said Lance Cpl. Yvienne C. Yumol, a female engagement team member.
The Marines treated six more Afghans before packing up the tents and jumping on an outgoing convoy to Patrol Base Siapan.
Site 3: From Obstacles to Progress
Upon arrival at Siapan, July 11, the Marines threw their packs under a shelter and went straight to the next site. As the Marines began to set up the medical tents, a massive sandstorm hit the area, pelting them with debris. They sat on each leg of the tent to hold it down until stakes and sandbags were brought to take their places.
The Marines returned to the patrol base, knowing villagers wouldn’t visit the site during the sandstorm.
The next two days proved very successful for the team, as they saw about 70 patients come through the medical tent. The Marines split into separate groups with some searching the local Afghans before entering the site and others playing with the children and speaking in Pashtu they’d learned during training.
“We’ve made some great relations with families and it can only get better from here,” said Yumol, a Los Angeles native.
Yumol and the other team members handed out toys and snacks to the children while their mothers received medical treatment. Some of the children ran around giggling, while wearing the Marines’ Kevlar helmets.
“They were very happy to come see us because there are no female doctors around,” Hahn said. “I believe we helped the females become more familiar and grateful of us being around.”
Site 4: Further Progress, Improved Relations
The last stop on the medical engagement tour was at Combat Outpost Sistani, where the Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment were happy to find a building they could use instead of working out of the tents.
The Marines were able to see 10 patients in the two days they spent there. They saw mostly Afghan men and children with aches and pains from farming. One woman suffered from a horrible tumor and had to be pushed to the site in a wheel barrow.
Hahn, from Enid, Okla., felt her team provided great medical care to locals in need.
“We definitely made a positive effect,” Hahn said.