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News | March 12, 2012

Afghan soldiers become medics under guidance of ‘America’s Battalion’ corpsmen

By Cpl. Reece Lodder , Regimental Combat Team 5

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELHI, Afghanistan (March 12, 2012) — Facing his student on the opposite side of a makeshift wooden trauma table, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Maxwell McGill watches intently as the Afghan soldier tightens a tourniquet around a dummy’s simulated leg amputation.

The focused soldier works quickly and methodically, treating his patient’s simulated injuries in order of severity. Through an interpreter, the Navy corpsman asks his student to explain what he’s doing. As he continues to patch up his patient, the soldier correctly articulates his treatment, a sign of progress met by McGill with a smile and a handshake.

Afghan National Army soldiers with 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, performed medical procedures under the guidance of corpsmen with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment battalion aid station during the final evaluation of an eight-week medic course here, March 9-10.

Among the variety of medic courses conducted in Helmand province, this course led by corpsmen with ‘America’s Battalion’ was the first held for ANA soldiers in Garmsir district. The curriculum for the course was designed to be “hands-on” in response to low literacy and proficiency rates among ANA medics, said Navy Lt. Sean Stuart, the 3/3 battalion surgeon, and a native of Atlanta.

He said numerous Garmsir-based Afghan forces have died of combat-related injuries in the past because those around them couldn’t perform simple medical procedures. Since many areas of medicine are repetitive, he said the corpsmen focused on helping the Afghan medics master them by consistently performing these skills.

“In a combat zone, being able to save somebody’s life doesn’t depend on literature or education,” said ANA Gunnery Sgt. Rozi Khan Eftekhar, the medical chief for 2/1/215, and a native of Mian Poshtay in Garmsir. “Our medics have to be able to fix the problem with their hands. In accordance, our training needs to be functional.”

At the beginning of the course, the medics delved into general medical skills and human anatomy. Their corpsmen instructors broke them up into small groups, instructing the Afghan soldiers on previously unfamiliar concepts such as germs and functions of the body’s organs.

“The biggest challenge we’ve faced is their learning curve,” said McGill, a 25-year-old native of Englewood, Fla. “In the U.S., we have a background of education. Many of the Afghan soldiers do not, so we’ve had to build off the basics to teach them advanced concepts.”

Stepping out of their regular role and into a mentorship capacity also afforded McGill and the other corpsmen an interesting opportunity to develop their expertise.

“Even though we’re not necessarily learning new skill sets, it’s important for us to reset and practice the ones we already know,” McGill said. “We’re passionate about what we do, so it’s fun to pass our knowledge on to students who are eager to learn.”

The ANA medics carried their newfound knowledge into classes on trauma medicine and primary care, frequently applying it during practical application exercises. They even had the chance to help tend to two Afghan gunshot wound victims and a man who sustained an open fracture in a motorcycle accident.

When it came time for their evaluation, the students filtered into the BAS, huddling around the trauma tables to answer questions about patient care, calculate blood pressure and heart rates, and treat simulated wounds on dummy casualties.

“The most rewarding part is seeing their excitement for what they’ve learned,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Seth Michaelis, a 24-year-old corpsman from Victoria, Texas. “It means a lot to these men to specialize as medics … they take pride in their job.”

Moving outside to a weapons range, the medics worked under the sounds of gunfire to care for simulated casualties played by their instructors.

Upon the successful completion of their final test, eighteen ANA medic students congregated outside the BAS to receive their medic certification cards.

“Before I came to this course, my medical knowledge was very limited,” said ANA Pvt. Mansor, a medic with 2/1/215. “Now that I’ve completed it, I’m confident I can save my fellow soldiers, my friends, by myself.”

As Garmsir nears the transition of lead security responsibility from coalition to Afghan forces, the course will continue to play an important role in the growth of Afghan forces, Eftekhar said.

Following their graduation, the course’s top two graduates will remain here to instruct the next class of medic students. The others will be stationed at various patrols bases throughout Garmsir to care of their fellow soldiers.

“Every aspect of the Afghan military is important, but our medics are mediators between life and death,” Eftekhar said. “God has control over all of our lives, but apart from His will, in combat, medics are the only ones who can save another soldier’s life.”