Medical outreach caps U.S. effort in Afghan operation
Stars and Stripes October 25, 2005
WATAPOOR, Afghanistan — The shy, barefoot girl with the scraped toe shuffled up to U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Johnson.
She appeared to have come alone to Saturday’s medical civil assistance program in Watapoor. Speaking through an interpreter, the Afghan girl said she had cut a toe on her left foot after hitting a rock. If she had owned shoes, they would have protected her.
As Johnson cleaned the wound, the girl winced with a grimace that didn’t take an interpreter to translate. Johnson applied ointment to the girl’s cut and gingerly put a Band-Aid over it.
Then, as she had come, the girl shuffled away but with a barely detectable smile. She was just one of hundreds of Afghans treated that day by U.S. servicemembers offering medical care.
“It makes you feel like you are serving the ultimate purpose,” said Johnson, 21, of Las Vegas. “You are actually making a difference here in the villages. You’re making people happy.”
Saturday’s medical civil assistance program was the capstone event of Operation Pil, a seven-day U.S. Marine-reinforced operation aimed at disrupting insurgents in eastern Afghanistan’s volatile Kunar province. Operation Pil translates to Operation Elephant.
Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine members were on hand Saturday treating Afghans, providing security and distributing vitamins, medications, hygiene kits and a variety of supplies. The ultimate goal is to win favor with villagers in an area that is still a hotbed of enemy activity.
Air Force Capt. Todd Tarner, a physician assistant attached to the Asadabad Provincial Reconstruction Team, treated Afghans complaining of diarrhea, chest congestion, runny noses, skin problems, and other ailments.
“These are primarily because they have no access to medical care,” he said.
With some of the older Afghans, U.S. medical personnel heard complaints of back problems because of the manual agricultural work Afghans perform throughout their lives.
With the change of seasons, Petty Officer 3rd Class Yeri Martinez treated people with coldlike symptoms. “It feels great to work with the locals and help them medically,” said the 24-year-old from New York City.
In addition to providing medical care and winning favor with the locals, Tarner came to another realization Saturday.
“You realize what we have in America that we take for granted,” Tarner said. “Seriously.”