By Spc. Gregory Argentieri, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 17, 2008 - Surrounded by snow-covered mountains, the medical personnel of Task Force Saber work side-by-side to provide a first-class, life-saving aid station on Forward Operating Base Naray located in northeastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border. The FOB Naray Aid Station team is composed of medical personnel from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and the 160th Forward Surgical Team. Their first responsibility is to the U.S. soldiers, whether they are wounded in action, sick, or need routine shots.
"The soldiers know that we are here for them, and that has given me a lot of good feelings about being out here. It's a huge privilege to be able to take care of U.S. soldiers," said Maj. Warren Cusick, 41, from Mesa, Ariz., a certified registered nurse-anesthetist and the officer-in-charge of the 160th FST.
"The main thing is for troops to have confidence and know when they go to fight that they're going to be cared for if anything bad happens to them. I used to be enlisted, and one thing that made me feel confident was knowing I would get medical care," Cusick said.
Even though the aid station is only a series of tents, the Task Force Saber medical team delivers care day and night, as close to the fight as possible.
"Our biggest challenge is ensuring that the U.S. personnel are taken care of when they get wounded in battle, and that is what we're always training for," said Capt. Scott M. Harrington, 31, from Daytona Beach, Fla., a family doctor assigned to Charlie Company, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion.
"In a big battle, we could have 10 or 20 soldiers come at one time, and that's happened before. We handled it appropriately, we got everybody out, and we saved their lives," he said.
"I am much more emotionally invested out here because I'm among friends. It's very scary when we know the guys are in harm's way," Harrington said. "Every time somebody goes out, one of our medics from the aid station go with the line units. Whenever they go on convoys, one of our medics goes out with them."
The Naray aid station does much more than provide medical care for American soldiers. The doctors and nurses also provide medical treatment to many Afghans, Afghan National Security Forces, and when the need arises, the enemy.
"We have the best relationship with the aid station, they help us all the time," said Afghan National Army Capt. Amanullah, 36, a general-internal doctor assigned to the 3rd Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps. "When our soldiers are sick, first, we treat them. We try to cure them by ourselves. If we are unable to cure them, we take them to the aid station, and the good doctors help us. We have a very good relationship with the surgeons."
"I was worried and nervous about being treated by U.S. doctors, not knowing what to expect, but after arriving at the aid station and seeing how nice and kind everyone there was, I was okay," said Afghan Soldier Sherin Beg, 22, a medic assigned to 3rd Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps. "Within an hour after arriving, I was asleep on the operating table having my appendix removed. The next thing, I was awake and it was all over."
The majority of people in need of medical care at the aid station have turned out to be Afghan. Mostly by word of mouth, the doctors and medics are gaining the trust of the local people and building a reputation for their compassionate and respectful medical treatment.
"Since we've been deployed, from May of 2007, the [aid station] has seen 5,400 local nationals in our five clinics throughout the upper Kunar province," said Harrington. "We see many children, adults, and fewer women, but every day we're seeing more of the local nationals and more of their women because they're feeling more comfortable with us."
An Afghan named Ramdad from the nearby village of Juba is one of the 5,400 people pleased with the services provided by the Soldiers at the Saber run aid stations. Ramdad first went to the coalition forces hospital three months ago after his daughter was burned.
"I was not sure the doctors were going to take her, but they treated my daughter, and the doctors did a good job," Ramdad said. "I was very happy, and because of that I brought my 3-year-old son, who is sick with pneumonia, in for help. We are happy with the American doctors taking care of our people because we are poor people, we are not able to take our sick family members out of the country, and it's helpful for us."
The doctors and medics working at the FOB Naray Aid Station are highly trained, dedicated professionals, who work to provide excellent medical care to all.
"Being out here providing the care that I've been trained to do is why I joined the Army. I get to wake up every day and know that I am doing the right thing," Harrington said.
(Editor's note: Spc. Gregory Argentieri is assigned to 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team public affairs.)