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Humanitarian Medical Clinic

  • Published
  • By U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class (MC1) Elizabeth Burke
  • NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan
As a Mass Communication specialist working for the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs office at the Kabul International Airport, my job affords me some amazing opportunities. The Wing mentors the Afghan National Army Air Corps and our USAF helicopter pilots mentor the Air Corps helicopter pilots. I never turn down a chance to fly with them, since there is no better way to see the full range of beauty of Afghanistan.

Recently, I was asked if I would fly to document Air Corps pilots transporting Afghan National Army Commandos on a humanitarian medical mission. The pre-flight brief explained that it would be a twelve hour day and that most of it would be spent waiting at a FOB. When mission day came, I was asked if I wanted to tag along instead of waiting with the helos. I said that I would like to go as long as I wasn't a burden to the Commandos.

I am so glad they said yes. The Commandos secured a village in Logar province and for the next few hours, Afghan and Coalition forces set up a medical clinic in the local schoolhouse. Initially it was very chaotic, but within minutes medics were seeing patients both young and old. Most of the ailments were basic: stomach aches, headaches, dehydration and bumps and bruises. The hot commodities of the day were vitamins, toothpaste and toothbrushes and the mood was upbeat.

Then a young boy came in and the medics asked him what was bothering him today. He said his stomach hurt and he explained that he had had surgery when he was younger. Then he lifted up his shirt to expose a bubble on his stomach and the mood became somber. Medical personnel examined his stomach and they believed he had a hernia and that his intestines were being pushed through the muscle wall of his abdomen. He needed surgery.

As an observer, I couldn't imagine what was going through this 13-year-old boy's head. He had come to the clinic alone and here were these total strangers telling him to go home and tell his Dad he needed surgery. The medical personnel photographed his stomach to record their find. When they find cases like this they try to get them medical care funded through a third party agency. They keep these photographs, so they can find the child through the village elder when they are able to get them medical care.

Missions like these remind us that there is a human element to war and that these missions while important to those who receive the treatment also renew the spirit of the service member.