Monday, July 02, 2007


A couple of days ago I went on a Command Medical Assistance (CMA) visit. I’ll include lots of pictures. It was a great visit and we saw over 650 patients. What made it “exciting” was the location.

Remember a few posts ago I talked about the increased violence here in Afghanistan and here in the Kabul area? Did I mention that about 10 days ago a couple of rockets were discovered; one pointed at Phoenix and the other at the ISAF compound? If I didn’t it was because I didn’t want to concern anyone. The village where the rockets were located is also suspected to have a large Taliban influence there and is considered a “high-risk” location. It’s not a place that the Americans or Coalition forces can or should go into lightly. With all that said, our humanitarian officer decided to try and foster some good will towards the American by organizing a CMA visit. When I heard about it and volunteered to go, I was told that it was a potentially dangerous area, that the rockets were discovered there and that it was a possible Taliban hold-out. The Specialist then asked me if I still wanted to go. I gulped, thought about the fact that I have 7 weeks left and said “yes.”

Was I nervous? Not too much until I went to the briefing the night before. That’s when I got the butterflies in my stomach. We got our security briefing and of course it was much more detailed than what I’m sharing with you. Because of the high risk we went over all the procedures that we would take if we came under attack. If that didn’t make the pucker factor go up not much else will. Not that I thought about backing out but as I looked around the room at all the female medical personnel that were going, I thought there was no way my manly manliness would allow me to back out. So I was in. My prayers that night were for a little added protection. In the end, it went great. OK, we did hear a mortar explode in the distance but no one skipped a beat and we just kept on working.

As we got there, the ANP (Afghan National Police) had already set up a security perimeter. The SECFOR (security forces) from Blackhorse were also on the scene providing initial security. That was a comfort but nothing I haven’t seen before so wasn’t too worried by it all.

The clinic where we were at was built by the Koreans in 2004 and was a little ragged around the edges but was a fully functional medical clinic. It was set up very nicely to see women and children on one side and men on the other. There were even two rooms with outside windows that served as pharmacies, dispensing medical supplies, babies milk, antacids and other things.

In other humanitarian missions I’ve been on the women have rushed the gate trying to get in. This time, the ANP had it really well organized. The women did press the line a little bit near the gate but for the most part they were well behaved, lining up against the outside wall of the wall around the clinic.

As you can imagine the women brought their children. We were cautioned not to become so enraptured with the kids that we ignored security. As you’ll be able to tell from the photos, there were some cute kids. In some cases it was heartwrenching to see the condition these kids live in and then in the next minute you’d see a woman with her children who were dressed “to the nines” at least for an Afghan. It was an interesting dichotomy.

The care taker of the clinic was an old Afghan man. At one point he obviously had the big toe on his right foot broken as it stuck up at a ninety degree angle to his foot. It looked so odd because it wasn’t natural. He obviously cannot wear shoes and I wondered if his feet get cold in the winter since he can’t wear shoes. I guess that image has remained with me because you would never see that in the states, but then again, there are lots of things I’ve seen here that you would never see in the states.

The men were easy to search since we can actually put our hands on them. The women were a little tricky since we’re not allowed to touch them, at least the men aren’t. We had two Afghan women interpreters who did a cursory search over the burka – an added difficulty. We’d then send them to another enclosed room where our female MP’s would wand them with the metal detector. After that I got to “direct traffic.” I would say “slam aleykham” as they came in and “hodoffas” (I have no idea how to spell these greetings correctly) as they would leave but other than one un-burka clad woman, I didn’t get a single response much less a look in my direction. I didn’t really expect much as the women are treated as second class citizens and they don’t like to interact with the soldiers.

The village and clinic were on top of a small hill so it gave a great view of the surrounding area. I’ve often described Afghanistan as brown and barren and it is but I was glad to see areas of green; fields, trees, gardens. It gave me hope that this country will continue to recover.

The only negative aspect of the whole day was having to wear my IBA for so long. My shoulders and hip ached from having to wear it all day as well as standing all day. It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve had to stand, wearing my body armor for long periods. I usually just wear it on convoys. But, I was glad that that was the only negative thing about the day. I could withstand a little discomfort to accomplish what was a positive mission. I just hope that our intention of fostering good will in this village succeeded.

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