Airman 1st Class Riostasia Johns, 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron entry controller, holds a local Afghan baby while her mother processes through the medical entry control point at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, April 16, 2013. The 455th ESFS entry control point Airmen and Afghan local guards provide security and collect information to identify and track records for all incoming patients. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Walking side by side outside Bagram Airfield, U.S. and Afghan guards move through crowds of local Afghans as they check for possible threats. Both have a common goal, to bring local patients inside the base for treatment while providing vigilant security against those who may choose to disrupt the medical process.
Afghan local guards, with help from the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, play a significant role in winning the trust and support of local Afghans through counter insurgency efforts. Together they process as many as 500 people per day through the medical entry control point to receive basic clinical care.
“We have really good Afghan coalition forces out here,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Foster, 455th ESFS entry control point NCOIC. “If we have an issue we let them know and let them fix it first, so they can establish their own authority with their own people.”
Finding the balance between showing force and showing kindness can be challenging.
“I’ll go up to local Afghans and say good morning, in Dari, smile and shake their hands, but my job is to make sure that everyone gets through this gate safely,” said Foster.
As the patients line up outside the gate, local village kids swarm around them to see the newcomers, as this can be many of the patients’ first trip to the treatment facility.
“This airfield has the only free clinic in the area,” said Staff Sgt. James Bohlen, 455th ESFS Egyptian entry control point NCOIC. “With the weather getting better, our patient numbers have increased as the locals walk miles to receive medical care.”
The ECP, also known as the Egyptian ECP, has coalition partners on hand to aid in the processing of the patients.
“Before the patients can receive medical care, the Egyptian doctor first reviews their needs and tells them if we can provide that type of care inside,” said Bohlen.
Building a working relationship with multiple partners takes time and dedication. Some of the U.S. Airmen have studied the Afghan language and can converse with the local guards using Dari while guards practice their English. Knowing common phrases in Dari is especially useful for the Airmen when gathering the required Biometric Automated Toolset information from patients.
“We all use the BAT system here to track and enroll the patients,” said Bohlen. “The system uses an iris scan and fingerprints to collect information and is a necessary step in getting the locals from the gate to the clinic.”
The combined U.S. and Afghan efforts made to provide free medical care have not only made a lasting impact on the local population, but also on the servicemembers.
“This is like nothing I’ve done before. It’s a whole different story and is the most positive thing I have done since being here,” said Foster, who is on his second deployment to Bagram. “This mission is turning a whole new page for the people out here.”