Airborne surgical team headed to Afghanistan
HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. Army Europe’s only airborne surgical team is headed to Afghanistan this spring to provide quick, lifesaving surgeries for U.S. troops during the upcoming "surge."
The 67th Forward Surgical Team (Airborne), based in Miesau and one of only five airborne surgical teams in the Army, has received deployment orders to Afghanistan for up to a year. That unit’s soldiers provide trauma surgeries close to the battlefield in the "golden hour" — the first hour after a soldier is wounded and most at risk to die from shock and bleeding.
"We’re ready to do our part," said Maj. Cory Williams, team chief and a critical care nurse. "A good bit of my team is experienced both in deployments and clinically. We’re real motivated, and probably even more than usual because we’re paratroopers."
The team, with fewer than 30 doctors, nurses and medics who can all be packed into six Humvees, will also be treating NATO and Afghan troops as well as civilians, Williams said.
The unit is one of two Germany-based medical units deploying in the next few months.
The 30th Medical Command Headquarters also received orders for up to a year in Afghanistan. The command will oversee all U.S. medical assets in Afghanistan, set and coordinate medical policy, and work with the Afghan government to build health care capacity in the beleaguered country.
"We’re prepared for it," said Col. Bernard DeKoning, commander of the 30th Medical Command, based in Heidelberg. "I’m sure it’ll be busy but we’re prepared to deal with any of the tasks and missions. "We are very excited about this mission. We feel very proud."
According to the European Regional Medical Command, the units are deploying as part of a regular cycle, not as part of the 17,000-soldier "surge" planned to deploy to Afghanistan to deal with a resurgent Taliban and increased violence. Marine battalions from Hawaii and California recently announcing their deployment to Afghanistan in the next few months, however, did say they were part of the surge.
The surgical team last deployed for a year, in 2005, to Iraq. The unit also was on standby in Africa during a U.S. presidential visit last year, and went to the Republic of Georgia for a training exercise shortly before Russia invaded.
The 30th Medical Command, formerly a brigade, deployed for seven months in 2003, and its headquarters deployed in 2005.
Because its soldiers are not for the most part doctors and nurses, the 30th headquarter’s deployment will mean a "very minimal impact on day-to-day health care in Europe," DeKoning said.
Likewise, although the 67th soldiers usually work at Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility, the hospital will not be short-staffed, Williams said.
The surge will add 17,000 U.S. troops to the 38,000 currently there, along with some 32,000 other NATO and foreign forces.