By Senior Airman James Bolinger, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 30, 2007 - The towns of Eskandareh and Pacha Khak hide deep within the mountains of the Kohe Safid district in Afghanitan's Parwan province. Eskandareh is near the head of Tagab Valley, and Pacha Khak has been a stronghold for many armies throughout Afghanistan's history. Members of 413th Civil Affairs Battalion, accompanied by Afghan National Police and the Kohe Safi Police Mentor Team, brought doctors and veterinarians to these two remote villages Nov. 27 for a village medical outreach.
Medical outreach missions are a way for the Afghan government and coalition forces to build a rapport with citizens on their own turf, said Army Col. Robert Nobak, of 413th Civil Affairs Battalion.
"When possible, we like to work with Afghan providers and, when necessary, make referrals to Afghan medical facilities," he said. "However, if there are cases where Afghan facilities are not readily available, we can make referrals to (Bagram Air Base)."
This was the first time such a mission has been held at either of these villages, and more than 450 men, women and children were seen.
"The age range was from 2 to 95, so the spectrum was fairly broad," Nobak said. "The most common complaint was joint pain, for which we have a variety of anti-inflammatory medicines."
Maj. Jeremy McGuire, leader of the Kohe Safi Police Mentor Team, organized the mission. "I proposed the idea for a medical outreach to Parwan's subgovernor and the local (Afghan police chief," he said. "They picked the villages, which are a political hot bed."
Pacha Khak was a Mujahedeen stronghold during the communist regime and was sympathetic to the Taliban when coalition forces took control of Afghanistan. Eskanderah villagers fought against the Taliban; in fact, an Afghan National Army general hails from the area, McGuire said.
The mission met "my expectations as far as the timeline, security and set-up," said Navy Lt. Tammy Felker, a physician assistant with 413th Civil Affairs Battalion who attended to women and girls in the village. "It did not meet my expectations in that I would have liked to have seen more women of childbearing age. When we don't see women of childbearing age in the clinic, then the village tends to be more traditional and suppress their women. The amount of women of childbearing age we see signifies the level of freedom the women have."
Still, Felker said, she felt the mission was still a success. "This is the first time we visited these villages. It takes time to develop a rapport with people," she said. "The first part is establishing trust. I feel we established trust with this visit, so, next time we will see more women and children.
Helping people with their ailments wasn't the only aspect of this mission. A veterinarian and an entomologist were also along for the ride. "I provide public-health assistance and education to the villagers, hopefully to implement long-lasting fixes for problems like insect-borne and food- and water-borne diseases, improving the overall health and well-being of locals, though I tend to assist the other medical or vet assets to accomplish their missions," said Navy Lt. Jason Forster, a medical entomologist.
As the Humvees headed back to Bagram Air Base, chatter over the radios was all about the success of the mission. "On a scale of 1 to 10, I would call this (mission) a 9," McGuire said. "We would have liked to get more Afghan doctors, but the ANP did an outstanding job with security."
(Air Force Senior Airman James Bolinger is assigned to Combined Joint Task Force 82 Public Affairs.)