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News | March 15, 2012

Afghan medics train their own, impress Marines and sailors

By Lance Cpl. Timothy Lenzo , Regimental Combat Team 6

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELARAM II, Afghanistan (March 15, 2012) — The soldiers all gather together inside the tent, the fluorescent light casts shadows across the Afghan National Army soldiers’ faces. Medical supplies of bandages, gauze and various tools line the shelves behind the five men, as they surround the stretcher carrying their Tolai member.

The soldier on the stretcher raised his head in time to watch the instructor, ANA Staff Sgt. Asmatullah, the medical platoon sergeant with Headquarters Tolai, 4th Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, insert an intravenous device into his arm. After properly demonstrating the procedures for an IV, Asmatullah and his students joked about who would volunteer next to have an IV inserted into their arm. Several soldiers pointed fingers, volunteering their friends.

Hands-on experience like this helps the students of the course grasp concepts quickly, which will help them as they come across real-life medical situations.

Asmatullah taught the combat medic course for eight weeks, focusing on basic combat trauma treatment.

“They were trained in all aspects of medical training: from logistical,  to radio, to evacuation, to hemorrhage control, to emergency medicine,”  said Nigel Kissoon, the supervisor for the course, and the chief medical advisor with Regimental Combat Team 6. “It’s a wide variety of training that they conducted.”

Navy Lt. Wilfredo Lucas, a health care administrator and medical planner with RCT-6, added that the course covered the same training given to Navy field corpsmen.

This course is the first one here in which ANA senior medics trained their own soldiers, leading the classes and exercises.

Kissoon said they chose the ANA instructors based on seniority, experience and qualifications.

“Many of these guys have been certified in the past through ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] or JSAS [Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest],” said Kissoon.

Having ANA instructors provide their own training showed some of the independence the Afghans established and how they’ve begun to transition from relying on Coalition Forces for all medical needs, to providing their own training.

“Having medical instructors is very important to the ANA because if they have medical instructors, they can train other medics and they can help each unit’s medical section,” said Asmatullah.

Asmatullah worked in the medical field before joining the ANA, making him an ideal choice as an instructor.

Kissoon said he was impressed with Asmatullah’s work ethic and devotion to the medical trade. Asmatullah’s hard work helped the students of the course learn lifelong skills.

“It teaches them how to fish,” said Lucas, referring to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu quote, “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.”

Asmatullah added that with having Afghan instructors the ANA took another step toward standing on their own feet in the medical field.

“It gives them a skill set that keeps teaching itself,” said Lucas, a native of Bowie, Md. “Our whole goal here is to have them gain their own medical independence. When the U.S, [transitions] out, the Afghans can keep providing for their own.”

Having ANA instructors helps the student’s learn faster without a language barrier.

Kissoon added that the way he would describe how to do something would be different than how an Afghan may describe something. Understanding this fundamental cultural difference helped push the course to more ANA led responsibilities.

“They know the strength and the weakness of their own people, just like we know the strength and weakness of our own military personnel. They are able to explain the information to them,” said Kissoon.

The ANA soldiers saw the benefits of the course first hand. While on patrol, Kissoon said, the ANA medics handled several complications ranging from injuries sustained in vehicle rollovers to improvised explosive device causalities.

“This course is very important for the ANA because we will have patients and injuries on the battlefield,” said Asmatullah. “We should have the capabilities to save the lives of patients and the capabilities to treat [patients] on the battlefield.”