By Spc. Nathan W. Hutchison, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 24, 2008 - As seasons change in Afghanistan and the snow starts falling, assistance missions shift from development efforts to missions that focus on providing protection from winter's harsh conditions. Recently, the Afghan National Police and the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team provided medical care, as well as clothes, blankets and toys, to villages throughout the province.
Nawa, one of the more remote districts in the Ghazni province with only one active clinic for about 40 villages, had been reluctant to accept medical care from coalition forces prior to this mission on Jan 12.
"The PRT before us came down and did medical outreaches like we are doing, but no one ever showed up except for a few (police officers)," said Navy Lt. Keith B. Hoekman, medical officer for Ghazni PRT. "Recently, some of the village elders got together and requested we come down and provide some medical care." Radio messages informed the villagers that PRT medics would be available at the clinic, and about 100 people were waiting when the team arrived.
Army Pvt. Shawn M. Testa, a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, said the ailments they treated ranged from minor colds to serious diseases.
"We saw different age groups, from infants to the elderly, and they seemed to feel comfortable with us," said Testa, a Bristol, Conn., native. "We get the feeling of satisfaction because they really appreciated us being there to help."
But satisfaction wasn't the only thing to be gained for a soldier with less than a year in the Army and only two months in Afghanistan.
"I learned a lot about different medications and ailments," Testa said. "It was good to see and help that many people who were actually sick and be able to help them."
More women showed up to be treated than expected, Hoekman said.
"We saw over 750 people during the four days, including more than 150 women, which is a huge number for this area," he said. "For a typical medical engagement in Ghazni province, only about 5 percent would be female, and almost all them would be little girls. It is a huge indicator the people trust us and are willing to stand up against the Taliban's attempted control."
Villagers in Small Nawa did not attend the initial event, either because of Taliban warnings or weather, but by the next day they eagerly sought the medical aid from the team.
"The only region that didn't make it the first two days was Small Nawa, the region where they had a lot of kidnappings and a pretty consistent enemy presence," said Army 1st Lt. Mordechai D. Sorkin, 3rd Platoon leader, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. "The PRT guys still had supplies, so we took a trip, along with the (Afghan National Police) and subgovernor, to a couple villages there."
Sorkin said the initial response was not positive, but that soon the people crowded the improvised clinic for medical assistance.
"So many people turned out," the Sacramento, Calif., native said. "It was just another demonstration that the government is here to help them and the coalition forces are here to support the government."
Hoekman said future medical programs are being planned because of the large turnout and positive response during this mission.
"They are talking about this mission as a medical assessment to figure out what to do for more long-term medical solutions in this area," Sorkin said. "I just hope next time (the PRT) comes longer so we can hit more areas."
Hoekman said the mission's enormous success was not anticipated because of the low turnout in previous missions.
"I think it truly is a change in the tide of people's perception about their government and coalition forces, and their willingness to stand up against the Taliban," Hoekman said. "That is a significant breakthrough, so I see good things to come in Nawa district."
(Army Spc. Nathan W. Hutchison serves with the 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)