|Village Medical Outreach in Paktya Province|
Each month, the joint AF and ANA medical team travels to a designated village to provide medical care as part of a village medical outreach mission. Sometimes this is done in the face of danger.
As the convoy destined for the Zormat District proceeded outside the wire for the medical mission, the truck commander in the lead improvised explosive devices detection vehicle, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Brewer, reminded his passengers to buckle up. This area was notorious for IEDs, he said.
"We have been hit by numerous IEDs since arriving in country last October," said Brewer, a native of Mountain Burg, Ark. "We have also had more than a few finds that explosive ordnance disposal teams were called to detonate."
The drive to the village, which was mainly dirt roads, took a little more than an hour.
"The ride was faster than normal," said Brewer's driver U.S. Army Pfc. David Elliot, also in the CIED unit, from Orlando, Fla. "It sometimes takes 2-3 hours."
Along the way, there were farmers tending their crops, workers digging irrigation ditches and what looked to be heavy equipment preparing the ground for paved roads or bridges.
Upon arrival, the first order of business was to setup security to keep all personnel safe while performing their mission. Brewer pointed out the direction that indirect fire was most likely to come from. As security teams set up perimeters and security was in place, the village elder was sought out to let the locals know there was free medical help available.
The village, called Kaylan, had a small school that local children attended, according to U.S. Army 1st Lt. Corey Gilgan, from Eagan, Minn., the convoy coordinator and executive officer for the CIED unit at FOB Lightning. Gilgan is originally from Eagan, Minn., but his unit is based out of Fort Lewis, Wash.
The school in Kaylan village was the chosen site for the free medical clinic.
"We had around 350 patients throughout the day," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ryan Harding, a medical technician with the FOB Lightning Med ETT, from LaOtto, Ind., stationed at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. "The majority were seen for cold and flu symptoms and skin irritations. We didn't see any women and only a few adults."
The medical personnel had asked why the local women didn't come to the clinic and were told the village elders told them not to.
"We attribute the lack of adult patients to the fact that the area is less secure than some of the past locations we have set up free clinics," said Harding.
To encourage locals to visit the free clinic, the security detail walked around and spoke to the village elders to let them know we were there to help.
The visit also gave both the U.S. and Afghan forces an opportunity to listen to the concerns of the local villagers.
Many of the Afghan locals expressed their opinion about the current situation in their village, including a belief that the violence may never end, despite more job opportunities being available. Some members expressed gratitude and gratefulness towards the government, but some also said that all Afghans need to pull together to make life better in Kaylan.
However, the conversations with the villagers were cut short when white flags were raised around Kaylan village. The white flags were a warning for the villagers to get off the roads, that there was trouble ahead. Most of the locals quickly vanished from the area.
The security detail, headed by Brewer, moved their patrol to an adjacent village, Kala. This was familiar territory because the detail was hit by an IED last week on a nearby road in the area.
"You are sure to get in a fire fight if you go 2-3 kilometres that way," said a homeowner, who was warning the team of nearby danger.
After hearing a loud noise coming from the direction of the school, the security detail returned to area, but the school was unharmed.
The medical team continued to provide care to patients. However, they hurried to see the last of the patients who were lined up outside, when a dust storm was approaching. They quickly loaded up their left over supplies and themselves into the convoy vehicles.
As the convoy passed through Gardez at rush hour, the streets were packed. This was a good sign that the convoy was out of danger, according to Elliot, who was steadily sounding his horns to clear the way for the convoy to return home to FOB Lightning.