GHAZNI PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - The 655th Forward Surgical Team received a call, April 22, that an Afghan ambulance carrying 10 Afghan National Army soldiers was on its way to Forward Operating Base Ghazni for urgent care.
The soldiers, who were injured in a traffic collision during a patrol, would normally be taken to the Ghazni Provincial Hospital, but due to space issues at the hospital and the extent of their injuries, which included possible head trauma, only six went to the Hospital and the other four came to FOB Ghazni.
The first patient arrived at 10:30 a.m., and the FST prepared for a long day. In addition to treating the four ANA soldiers, two more patients required treatment later that day: a U.S. soldier and a Polish soldier.
Designed to treat up to four patients at a time, the FST turned to others on the FOB for assistance.
“We’re only capable of handling four patients, and anything after that, we have to pull from different places,” said Air Force Senior Airman Penny Barker, a medical technician from Corunna, Mich.
Those who answered the call were 13 Polish medics, three medical personnel from the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team and two medics from the Texas Agribusiness Development Team. Everyone dropped what they were doing and ran to the FST to help.
Together, the four units were able to treat six patients simultaneously without a hiccup, even when the FOB came under an insurgent rocket attack and all personnel had to find protection in the bunkers. Faced with possible danger, the medics banded together and stayed with their patients while the sirens sounded their warning throughout the base.
“This is truly a joint environment,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Zaradhe Yach, Ghazni PRT senior medical officer from Santa Cruz, Calif. “We have Air Force, Navy, Army and Polish medical teams and Afghan medical providers who act as interpreters and assist where needed.”
Inside the FST, medical personnel worked side by side to care for all six patients with ailments ranging from cuts and broken bones, possible head trauma, a gunshot wound and a fall injury.
“It was very intense and controlled,” said Air Force Capt. Anne Staley, FST registered nurse from Aledo, Texas. Over the next four hours, she tirelessly worked on three different patients.
The patients, both ANA and coalition forces, all received equal care.
“When they come in, you go into autopilot as far as medical care is concerned,” said Staley. “An injured patient is an injured patient.”
For some, this was a new experience working with medics from other countries.
“This was my first time working hand in hand with the Polish today, and watching them was amazing to me,” said Barker. “I learned a lot from them.”
All of the patients left the FST in stable condition. The coalition forces went to Bagram Air Base, one ANA soldier was sent to the Gardez Hospital in Paktya province to be cared for by other Afghan doctors, and the others were released.
The 19 Air Force members of the 655th FST, the first Air Force forward surgical team in Afghanistan, relieved their Army counterparts March 12, and have seen at least 84 patients at FOB Ghazni in 43 days.
At the end of the day, the different units discovered they were bound by a common thread, held together by their medical backgrounds.
“Languages spoken at the bedside were English, Polish, Pashto and Dari, but throughout it all, the common language was medicine,” said Yach.
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