Coalition medical team assists Afghan citizens

23 Apr 2004 | Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks

In a poverty-stricken rural village near Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, doctors and corpsmen from the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) joined coalition forces in providing medical and dental care to Afghan citizens.

"We accomplished two things at Najoy," said Lt. Commander Gary Martin, referring to the three thousand-person village visited by the coalition forces. "First, we assisted them [Romanian and U.S. Army medical teams] medically when we could, and also used the opportunity for some cultural familiarization."

Martin is the surgeon for MEU Service Support Group 22, the MEU's combat service support element, and headed up the nine-Sailor contribution to the humanitarian effort.

"It's good for us to see how most people here live," he continued, "and realize there are no cultural boundaries between what we do and basic human needs."

Upon their arrival at the village, and after Afghan National Army (ANA) forces established security at the site, the Sailors joined medical teams from Romania and the Army's 10th Mountain and 25th Infantry Divisions in setting up an impromptu aid station.

Petty Officer 2d Class Brian Taylor, of Gulf Breeze, Florida, is with the MEU Command Element and accompanied the small task force's leadership to a conference with village elders upon their arrival.

"It was good to see the ANA [Afghan National Army] work and how civil affairs negotiate with the locals," said Taylor. "What we did here gives us a good idea on how to conduct these operations when we get to our operating area. What we saw here is what we'll see later, and was stuff like worms, malnutrition and dehydration, stomach problems, and various skin conditions."

While Martin, Taylor, and the other male medical specialists primarily observed the Romanian and American soldiers treat Afghan males and children, Chief Petty Officer Dulcie Davis, a Fleet Marine Force-qualified corpsman from Allenton, Wisconsin, headed up a team of female corpsmen who saw female patients separately from the males.

"They were very curious and really receptive to our help," said Davis, commenting on the women who filtered into the simple mud hut serving as their temporary clinic. "We saw both young and older women as well as children."

Assisted by Petty Officers 3d Class Lori Buttierries and Jacquelyn Lee, Davis responded to a variety of complaints including gynecological problems, worms, ear aches and infections, and skin rashes.

"The women are usually reserved in this culture," said Lee, a native of Marietta, Ohio, "but when they came back to see us they were very aggressive. They knew we were there for only a short period, and wanted someone to care for them."

"When they realized we were leaving, they became really pushy and trying to cut each other off so they could be seen."

Outside, the male care-givers ran into the same problem when it came time to close up shop.

"One thing is that we learned to trust the ANA," said Taylor, who observed the Afghan troops effectively control the crowd as they surged toward the treatment area.

For many of the Sailors, the visit to Najoy was their first exposure to a poverty-stricken village where medical care is the exception, and not necessarily the rule.

Short, one-day MedDenCAPs such as the one at Najoy are often referred to as 'over-the-counter' visits.

"There's only so much we can do on these visits," said Davis. "We can't give definitive, sustained care but we do what we can."

Most of the treatment consisted of evaluating the villager's conditions and providing short term solutions such as giving out antibiotics, vitamins, or asprin. For more serious cases, the villagers were referred to the hospital in nearby Kandahar.

Also on hand were Navy Lt. Amy Plant and Petty Officer 3d Class Ernst Deant, one of MSSG-22's dentists and dental technicians.

"We're prepared to conduct extractions if necessary and provide demonstrations on dental care," said Plant, a native of Taylorsville, N.C.

Plant conducted a number of cursory medical examinations, but in time, wasn't called upon to pull any teeth. Deant, who hails from Miami, Florida, kept busy passing out dental health packets and showing the locals how to properly care for their teeth.

When the 22d MEU (SOC) moves into its primary area of operations, the team that visited Najoy will serve as the MEU's primary MedDenCAP team and the Sailors will carry with them several lessons learned. In addition to seeing how best to facilitate the flow of patients, the corpsmen and doctors now have a snapshot of health problems they might encounter among the local populace.

In addition to its Command Element and MSSG-22, the 22d MEU (SOC) consists of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 266 (Reinforced). The MEU is in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military operations under the operational control of Combined Joint Task Force 180.

For more information on the 22d MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit