Monday, February 28, 2011

First Departures

The first members of the FST have left for home. One of our corpsman needed emergency leave to help care for his child's medical condition. We wish him and his family the best. Also our senior chief petty officer, the senior enlisted man for the unit, arranged an early trip home for himself. He departed yesterday. The rest of us await our reliefs. But the end feels closer.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Best of Care Packages

When the going gets tough, the tough have a cookie. Or read a magazine, flip through cards and letters, or wrap up in a quilt. All this is possible thanks to the dozens of care packages that we get from family, friends, and various organizations. Whether it's food, clothing, reading material, toiletries, we appreciate the support.

The never-empty care package shelf
Here are some of the memorable gifts:

Italian night in a box.

Mangia, Mangia!
Cookies Ready-To-Eat.
Camoflauge chocolate chip
General interest magazines and books.

For poultry lovers anywhere (cue snarky grin by a Texas friend).
The Empire State novelty.

Nothing like cutting and gluing matches to cure monotony

Monday, February 21, 2011


Today a young boy died.

We were paged this morning for a casualty. An eight year-old boy in an IED blast. He set off the explosive on foot at his village. American forces arrived at the scene and performed first aid. The boy stopped breathing in the field. The flight medic took over his care but the patient was pulseless and needed CPR during the flight.

He arrived with tourniquets on both legs to prevent bleeding from the stumps that remained. Had he lived he would have been a bilateral amputee. His head was wrapped in bandages that hid major skull indentations and exposed brain. One of his eyes was missing.

We pronounce the boy dead and cleaned and wrapped his body . His father had flown in on the helo and so was able to spend time with his son. He was visibly upset. Most of the rest of the day was spent trying to facilitate the father bringing his boy home for burial before sunset as is their custom.

The atmosphere in the FST was unusually hushed afterwards. You grow rather thick skin in this job but even thick skin can be penetrated by a sharp edge. This case seemed to be that. In another world, this boy could have been a play date for my own sons who are his age.

I have written that our days have been quiet in recent weeks. The lull in action along with the approach of our departure portended to a leisurely end to this mission. But much has changed in the past few days between the extension of our deployment and the resumption of violence. During the lull, my blog entries had veered towards the glib. Much of that was due to lack of anything else to write. Now that the war seems to have no intention of letting us leave quietly, I admit that lightness of being feels like a luxury. I am weary of writing about violence.

We are fortunate to have an out. In a few weeks we will return home where bombs and guns make the news but don't penetrate our lives. This man and his family have no such out. It is they who have a right to claim weariness.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Back In Business

This morning we had our first major war casualty in several weeks. The action occurred at a nearby village which is remarkable because the most recent casualties in mid January were from the outer edges of our AOR (Area of Responsibility) at the Pakistan border.

An Afghani officer with the NDS (National Directorate of Security), their equivalent of the FBI, was shot. One of the DOD civilians told us the story. The man was on his way to work in the village and decided to take a rickshaw-type taxi. He was dressed in his uniform. The taxi stopped along the way to pick up three other riders. The riders were Taliban in disguise. After about fifteen minutes, one of the insurgents pulled a gun and the shot the officer in the head at point blank range. He was not killed instantly. The driver then claimed that he was forced to continue driving at gunpoint to some unknown destination where presumably the Taliban intended to take their victim. However, they encountered an ANA force at which point the Taliban abandoned the taxi and fled. Frankly it sounded like a planned ambushed to me.

The NDS agents are as close to reliable as any Afghani government agency gets. He was definitely one of the 'good guys' as much as anyone is within the realities of the current system. I asked the DOD worker who related the story if this meant the winter 'break' was over. "Seems like it to me. We know there are at least three of them loose out there."

He arrived at the FST completely unresponsive with profuse bleeding from his wound. His vital signs were decent except that he was profoundly hypothermic with a body temperature of 88F. The code went well but the patient deteriorated. With wound packing, blood products, and maneuvers to limit brain edema, we managed to stabilize him enough to allow transport to the hospital at KAF. He died later in the day of his wounds.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Counting Your Chickens

There was an unscheduled formation called today. Unscheduled formations always mean one of two things: yelling or bad news. In this case it was the latter.

Our reliefs are delayed and thus our deployment is extended. Hopefully only a couple of weeks. In light of my post yesterday, it should not be such a surprise. I wrote about blog posting and karma many months ago. So it seems that I have fallen trap again.

Unfortunately the news coming this late in the process, has thrown many of us for a loop. The business of the day has been characterized by unpleasant calls home and disappointment. Reunions will have to be put off and homecoming plans will need to be rearranged.

In the end, you cope by pressing on, not worrying about what you cannot control, and the knowledge that it could be worse. One of our SEABEE colleagues told me today of a sister unit that was extended by three months. He is concerned that the same thing will happen to his unit. Such is the nature of military planning. Expect the worst, hope for the best, and don't count your chickens early.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Final Countdown

It is likely our last full week of clinical responsibility. Our replacements have nearly completed their pre-deployment training. One of the surgeons is blogging about his experiences. Much time is now devoted to wrapping up unfinished business, starting to pack, and planning the trip home. Still, until the next team actually arrives, we try to avoid attachment to any certain dates.

Newly snow capped mountains
Casualties have been light to non-existent. In the past two weeks, only one patient had minor injuries from a mortar round. Hopefully this bodes well for the spring and summer but skepticism about this abounds. We continue to treat injuries that result from the conduct of daily business. It is good to end the deployment without the casualties that had been so commonplace.

I sound like a broken record talking about the weather but we are drying out as the extensive rains continued last weekend. We tested the watertightness of the 'temporary' tents in which so many of the troops are housed. Some of them looked to be in danger of floating away until shovels and some frantic labor resulted in new drainage ditches. The OR in the FST had some flooding as well which was controlled by some determined effort by our teams. The hard structures here were built 30 years ago by the Soviets during their invasion and their age is really showing.

I have spent a lot of this forum poking fun at the FOB and deployment life but just to show that there is beauty everywhere, even austere environments, I am have included some pictures to prove my point.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Life On The FOB: Part 11 - All The FOB's A Canvas

You might think that the military suppresses creativity and individual expression. I do. Wait did I just admit that? Nevertheless, it still creeps out in unexpected ways and places. No less on the FOB. Where most see mundane concrete, earthworks, and defensive structures, some see a canvas. And, still others see an opportunity to critique. So let's celebrate the Hesco and jersey barrier as vehicles for artistry.

For some, the unit is the muse.
Seahorses and whacking bushes where there are none. Hmm, abstract.

For some, inspiration comes from national identity.

For the FST, we just wanted the best. Everything is a competition, you know.

FST virtuosity. No seriously.

Then there are the Hesco artists, who favor rawer sketch techniques.

Primal rage. Get thee to Combat Stress Therapy.

It speaks to the interconnectedness of man, woman and guns. I think. Maybe.

But in the end, isn't all art simply emotion?

I smile therefore I am...a Hesco.

By the way, we were thinking of auctioning these priceless treasures. If you want to bid, let us know. Shipping not included.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Soiree' at Sunrise

Game time was in the early morning hours here and no one was going to let the 0400 kickoff stop the party. The DFAC opened and served plates of calories and cholesterol deep-fat-fried to perfection. Near beer flowed freely.

Taunting between camps also flowed freely. It is fortunate that they don't organize units by states, ala the Civil War. Otherwise things might have really gotten out of hand.

Missing the Cheeseheads

We didn't get to see the commercials. Instead, AFN broadcast homemade public service announcements submitted by units worldwide. They were, um, as good as you might imagine. Also Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs, in a blatant attempt to catch us paying attention, thanked us for our service. Personally, I prefer Pepsi, Budweiser, and but oh well.

No couches for these potatoes.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

They Also Serve

We had a birth this past week. The wife of one of our air force medics gave birth to their first child, Landon. Mom and baby are doing well.

Newest addition to our unit

The occasion is a good opportunity to sing the praises of the military family. It sometimes feels disproportionate to compare acknowledgment of our contributions with the acknowledgment of our families. We, the deploying service members, are hailed with accolades, shows of support, care packages, and thanks while they are unheralded. Imagine being a single parent usually with young children living in a military community removed from your social support network for six, eight, twelve or more months. My own wife has often complained that she feels like she doesn't have 5 minutes to herself. Back home, I do a lot of work on the base hospital's labor deck. It is not an exaggeration to say that not a single day passes without a delivery in the absence of the deployed father.

It is not easy on the children either. A few months back, I saw a father Skyping home at the USO. On screen, there were three school-aged girls gathered around the kitchen table when the mother appears with a birthday cake. They were having a family celebration, deployment style. Nikki, one of our newly arrived nurses, managed a few days of leave after completing the six weeks of predeployment training. She had left her behind her 22 month-old son. Initially, he was quite angry with her when they were reunited. However, all was soon forgiven. Then after a few days home, she left again to come join us here. Her son is left to readjust. We are lucky that kids are resilient.

Two recent news items, one encouraging and the other devastating, highlight the plight of military families. First, was Michelle Obama's new campaign to advocate for military families. I do not know how effective the subsequent initiative will be but I do appreciate our leaders remembering the families left behind. The other item was news of the wife of a career army officer who murdered her teenage children while he was deployed. It was the talk of our unit last week as we gave pause to wonder how our families were holding up. Obviously, you cannot lay the blame for such an unfathomable crime with the military but, on the other hand, repeated deployments, moves, and transitions compound underlying stress. We pray for those impacted, especially the father.

I am going to finish this with a bit of homerism by way of  showing how much little Landon is going to change while his dad is overseas. My son, Jack, was born days before I left for the Middle East. I last saw him when he was two days old. He is getting to be a big guy now, very busy exploring his world, sitting up, and showing support for his favorite team. I look forward to making his acquaintance and watching future Super Bowls with him.

Jack, Steeler fan

After going blind, John Milton, the English poet, wrote a sonnet about his own disability and his contribution to society, in spite of his limitations. It concluded with the famous thought "They also serve who only stand and wait." This notion was co-opted long ago to apply to military families in the midst of war. We can attest that, indeed, they do also serve.