Wednesday, 26 June 2013

So in the stress and chaos of the last week, I forgot to mention a really exciting and positive development for our Red Cross team. We have been given a bi-weekly radio spot on the Armed Forces Network (AFN) Freedom Radio. Twice a week my team leader and I head over to the radio station and chat on air with the broadcaster about Red Cross services and events available to the deployed population. Our first on-air segment was actually almost a week ago, but was unfortunately lost in the aftermath of the attack on Bagram. But it is certainly a bright spot on the deployment and I wanted to share it! Enjoy the photos below and hopefully I will be able to obtain an mp3 of our interviews!


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Today was a really tough day with the Memorial Services for the four killed at Bagram on Tuesday night. There were two services in the Enduring Faith Memorial Chapel, one at 2pm and another at 5pm, each for the respective unit that lost soldiers. Although I would have liked to have shown my support at both, I chose to attend the second one because both services were in the middle of my "night".  I would have risked getting over tired and sick doing both since we work nine hour shifts, 7 days a week so there's no opportunity to recover. However, our collective team did attend both ceremonies so at least we always had a presence.

To be honest, I cannot tell you which part of the ceremony was the hardest...the slide show of photos and videos of the fallen, all of whom were in their 20s...the Specialist paying tribute to his fallen friend who could barely finish his speech... the acoustic version of "Desperado" which was sung live and by far the most beautiful rendition of the song I have ever heard...or most likely it was the roll call at the end of the service, when the First Sergeant for their unit began calling out the names of soldiers under his command, to which each responded "Here First Sergeant!" The painfully long pauses that came after the names of the dead, as the First Sergeant continued to repeat their names until he called their full name and no one responded, was only filled by the cries of the unit members. Then followed a 21 gun salute and the forlorn notes of 'Taps" being played by a lone bugler.

The whole Memorial was recorded for the families back home and I hope they can find some very small comfort in the fact that their loved ones were clearly valued and appreciated and loved by their fellow soldiers.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

It has been an emotionally exhausting 24 hours. As you likely know, 4 were killed and a few were injured in a rocket attack on Bagram last night. The odd thing is, I didn't even hear the attack. I certainly heard the incoming alarms go off, and I "sheltered in place" as ordered by the Garrison voice on the loud speaker. My friends and I wondered where it hit and if it was a false alarm and when we could go back to work.

About an hour after the incident, a military police friend came into the office and was clearly upset. The MPs act as first responders for the incidents and he was able to tell me a bit more about what happened. Then about 4am our time the news broke on CNN and I got a call from the Red Cross Center in Ft Sill Oklahoma doing an accountability check on our team. Once the news broke, we knew we were in for a rough morning.

My shift ended at 0500 and at 0900 I came back to the office and my team leader and I went over to the hospital. We didn't get two feet in the door before an armed guard insisted on seeing our IDs. We went first to speak to the staff and patients who were in the ICU. Then we made our way to the Intermediate Care Ward. Both the ICU and the Ward had patients from the attack last night. In a tragic coincidence, the patient in the ICU recognized our team leader from a Memorial Ceremony for a Sergeant that was killed in her unit just a few weeks ago. She even remembered our team leader laying a coin on his casket as traditional act of military honor. We were also informed that there would be several purple heart ceremonies taking place today, but because the fallen were based on Bagram, it was advised that there may not be any room for additional guests.

We are putting together a care package for the team in the ER because by all accountants they witnessed the worst of it. We also learned that the Veterinary team, the guys who let me come over and play with the working dogs, were called into the office last night during the attack because their clinic, attached to the hospital, was converted into a temporary morgue. They spent the night in their own clinic with the bodies of the fallen. My team leader and I wanted to do something special to support them and provide them a bit of a distraction so we invited them over to our canteen tonight and threw them a pizza party. They put on a movie and we stuffed them with pizza and girl scout cookies and tried to bring their day to a better end.

My heart goes out to those who did not survive, who woke up with me yesterday morning in Afghanistan, and went to work and went to the gym and could not have known how this would end. Please remember them and their sacrifice. To remember them is to honor them and that is one of the greatest things left in our power to do.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Our team is safe after last night's attack on Bagram. Our hearts are with the families...
The Seebeas are building out Lemon-aid Stand!!!


Sunday, 16 June 2013

On my shift tonight I received a message for a married couple that is deployed here together to Afghanistan. Their 15 year old son had drowned and they were unaware of this news. As I was trying to deliver the message telephonically to the Private First Class (PFC) who takes messages for their unit, the PFC started crying. Then I started crying. We could barely get through the message. No one deserves to get that news on Father's Day and I hate that I am the one who had to deliver it. My heart is with their family. I am so sorry.
Happy Father's Day!

This morning I ran the Bagram Memorial Father's Day 5k. Over 500 soldiers and civilians turned out to do the run. The whole event was a huge success, a gorgeous day, not too hot (and no incoming ;-). I just wanted to write a brief post about what occurred while I was running. We had just reached the turnaround for the first third of the race. I had just passed by two soldiers who were running together and as I came back in front of them I heard one say to the other. "Hey dude, you ok? You're slowing down?" The other one replied, "Oh yeah man, I guess I just started thinking, you know, I's Father's Day. You know? I guess I just started thinking about what that means". At that point I pulled away from the conversation, but it was such a surreal moment. I overheard this soldier's bizarre, heartfelt moment of clarity as we were wheezing and burning and cramping and sweating and the way he said it was a reality check for me too.  We're running the Father's Day 5k, but how many of us really stopped to consider what that stands for, like the soldier I overheard?  It's so easy to be sucked into the nether world of deployment life and forget what's important back home in our real lives.  But then it occurs to me, the reason I don't stop to consider it is because it makes me too sad. Allowing Bagram to become my whole world protects me from the sadness I feel when I think of my father alone on the day he should be celebrated for the hero he is.

After the race with my prize shirt!

Friday, 14 June 2013

It's been a BUSY couple of days!

Wednesday I was at the Korean Hospital with the Afghan women and children. The Afghan doctor and I put together a presentation on Malaria and for the first time, the program is really starting to come together. The doctor now presents with a microphone and podium we were able to obtain. We got permission to turn the chairs in the waiting room so all the benches face the same direction, with the audience all facing the podium. Next week I am making a powerpoint presentation on Malaria because we are hopefully we will have a TV screen next week. I'm hoping to post a video soon!

Then this morning, my team leader and I went over to do a round of hospital visits. We brought over plates of Mom's homemade fudge as well as dozens of calling cards that we were able to purchase with the last of our Military Hospital grant money. I don't think I've mentioned this grant yet, but our team has been able to do some fabulous things for the Bagram hospital out here. We bought the ICU 6 ipads and 6 portable DVD players for the patients. We purchased thousands of combat stress balls for the clinic and dozens of pairs of athletic shoes for the patients who arrive injured with only their combat boots. Needless to say both the hospital and our Red Cross team are eager and hopeful for another installment of the grant.

I also wanted to share this photo taken this morning with the Seabees. Many of them are heading home and this picture was taken after we handed out our certificates of appreciation for their volunteer work at our Memorial Day event.


Sunday, 9 June 2013

I wanted to share a story from the Korean Hospital a few weeks ago.
Two girls ages 10 and 6 walked into the internal medicine office unaccompanied. The internal medicine doctor, an Afghan interpreter and I were in the office.  The older sister had come back for an follow up appointment for an ear infection and it turns out, the little girls were brough by their older brother who chose to wait in the hall. The older sister was a beautiful little girl wearing a shimmering pink and silver scarf, with a black sheer outfit with multicolored sequins underneath the sheer. When the interpreter asked if the girls go to school the older girl replied no, their mother and father forbide it.
I asked if the girls wanted to go to school, but the response was a matter-of-fact no.  I then asked the older girl, what would she like to be when she grows up, what would she like to do? She said  she wanted to be a tailor. I couldn't help by find her response baffling. This little girl did have aspirations for herself, she did want to obtain a working profession and by extension some semblance of independence. But at the same time, education was somehow not connected to her future, it was not seen as a necessary aspect to her success and development.
When I asked these questions, the older girl looked curiously as me like I was a friendly alien. It was obvious she found my questions odd and she couldn't understand their purpose. It was so hard to sit there and stay quiet, to not draw the sisters close and implore them to fight for their education. The benefits to working at the Korean Hospital is the portal it provides into Afghan life. The major drawback is interacting with these women and girls and having such little ability to change their lives.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Interesting article about why closing midnight chow would be detrimental to the troops. I'm so glad that this is being picked up and reported on in the media.

Also! I did my first Medevac mission last night. For those of you who remember my last deployment, the Medevac missions are the inbound flights to Bagram carrying wounded soldiers from the field and the outbound flights are for the injured soldiers who have been stabalized at the hospital in Bagram and are flying out to Germany where they have the Level 4 trauma centers.  Last night was a pretty big mission too - 15 ambulatory, 5 patients on litters and 2 CKATS (patients on life support). My role is to provide manpower for moving the patients from the hospital to the bus and the bus onto the plane. We are also just there to provide moral support for the injured patients who are often alone and scared.