Washington Reserve Unit Helps Win Hearts
Army Sgt. Eric Gonzales, a medic with the 396th Combat Support Hospital, relaxes with 9-year-old Khair Mohammed, May 13, at Forward Operating Base Taran-Kowt, Afghanistan. Khair, who lost his legs after stepping on a land mine, was cared for by members of the 396th for four months during the unitâ€™s 12-month deployment. (U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Robb Zimmel)
By Rob Cooper
Crier staff writer
Amid the rocky hills and sand-drenched barrens of Afghanistan, a change is occurring within the hearts and minds of its people. Due to the efforts of coalition forces throughout the country, many Afghan natives are progressing towards greater freedom and security.
A crucial building block in the concept of a better tomorrow for the Afghani people is basic healthcare and medicine. In order to nurture the growth of this simple yet fundamental facet, the coalition forces throughout the world are called to provide care, knowledge, leadership and education.
Among these forces are Soldiers from the 396th Combat Support Hospital, a 44-member team of medical experts from the Washington Army Reserve. The team returned home Friday after a 12-month deployment to Afghanistan where they rendered not only care, but development within the countryâ€™s budding medical community.
â€œWe had two primary missions in Afghanistan,â€ said the unit commander, Col. Dwight Thompson. â€œOne, provide medical treatment to coalition and local nationals and two, be part of commanding the Joint Medical Task Force.â€
During the deployment, members of the 396th were split up and tasked to various remote surgical sites as well as Bagram Air Field. At these sites, members of the 396th provided life-saving treatment to wounded as well as basic triage care. They also reached out to local medical communities to provide guidance on the latest in medical breakthroughs.
â€œThe Forward surgical elements of the 396th provided state-of-the-art, resuscitative care that saved many coalition lives and made dramatic impact on the hearts and minds of the local populace,â€ Thompson said. â€œI think saving lives in such an austere environment is truly an outstanding accomplishment. Without these surgical sites, many of these coalition forces and nationals would certainly have passed away.â€
Sgt. Christina Noyes, a patient administrator with 396th, spent seven months at Forward Operating Base Taran-Kowt during her deployment. During her time there, the St. Maries, Idaho, native treated many local nationals, growing close to them in the process.
â€œWhile we were there, the 396th treated more than 1,500 outpatients,â€ she said. We would deal with the local nationals twice a day. It had its ups and downs, but most of the time it felt good to treat them knowing that they never had the ability to do it themselves before.â€
Noyes talked about one patient in particular, a 9-year-old boy named Khair Mohammed.
â€œWe had a little boy that stepped on a land mine lost both of his legs, and he was with us for four months,â€ Noyes said. â€œWhen he got there he was so weak he couldnâ€™t lift his head. By the time he left he could speak English and was whizzing around in his wheelchair. It was amazing just seeing how different he was before and after his time with us.â€
In addition to caring for local nationals, the 396th had a critical hand in improving the healthcare structure in Afghanistan. At Bagram, the unit assisted in commanding the Joint Medical Task Force, a milestone in the coalition forcesâ€™ medical assets.
â€œThe JMTF acted as a medical support brigade for Combined Joint Task Force â€“ 82 and American Forces in Afghanistan,â€ Thompson said. It consisted of 1,100 members that were from Egypt, Korea, and Jordan. We operated out of five hospitals and seven forward surgical sights together with medical support, veterinary services, preventative medicine, and blood banks to name a few. The 396 staff was responsible to make sure JMTF operations went through without any hurdles.â€
Thompson said that the unit along with the task force played a major part furthering the medical care provided in Afghanistan.
â€œI think that it is the most significant joint combined medical operation that the medical services in the Army, Air Force and Navy have ever accomplished on the ground,â€ he said. â€œWe were able to increase the utilization rate of medical assets by 80 percent, with only a five percent increase in resources during our rotation. We also opened a new joint theater hospital at Bagram, which provides Level Three trauma care in Afghanistan and serves as a hub for air evacuation from to Germany. All of the Soldiers in the unit are extremely proud of these accomplishments.â€
Thompson said that the small unit provided such a large amount of assistance during the deployment due in part to their civilian experience.
â€œOne of the major contributions the Reserve Component gives to the army is the ability to provide a very diverse and comprehensive manner of dealing with medical issues,â€ he said. â€œWe have multi-faceted view points that come from the civilian side than those of the active duty military. The 396th is a very tight-knit unit known to be one of the most combat ready combat hospitals in the Army Reserve.â€
The deployment was, above all else, a rewarding and educating experience, Noyes said.
â€œI am a pre-med student, so I learned a ton,â€ she said. â€œI went out to the flight lines, served as a triage officer and was a scrub tech in the operating room. Our doctors were really willing to let us get in there and learn. I canâ€™t stress enough the experience. I just turned 22, and the things Iâ€™ve done for my age are just incredible.â€
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