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Afghan villagers get medical aid in embattled province

By Staff Sgt. Jacob Caldwell

ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Coalition and Afghan doctors conducted a Village Medical Outreach mission Oct. 20-25 in embattled Zabul Province, offering some much- needed aid to three different villages and the surrounding areas.

“Our number one purpose is to help the people,” said Cpt. Joshua Gaspard, Headquarters and Headquarters Company Executive Officer for the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), “We provide medical support and hence the title, Village Medical Outreach, but we bring other assets.”

“We did bring a mechanic and we were able to help the ANA and the ANP on some of their vehicles, but the number one thing is to get out there and try to help the populace,” said Gaspard.

Gaspard has experience running the VMOs in Zabul Province, this being the fourth.

Over the span of the four VMOs, the missions have covered the majority of Zabul Province: Atghar, Zanjhir, and Argandahb Valley being the last three areas needing coverage.

Every mission has difficulties inherit in it, this VMO mission being no exception.

“If you were to look across the board, for the number of individuals involved, you would probably have the same number of MOSs,” said Gaspard. “As an infantry officer, it’s normally pretty easy. I’ve got a bunch of 11Bs and I say ‘Let’s go take the hill.’ For these guys you’ve got every MOS you could possibly imagine and we try to integrate them together to build a winning team.”

Different jobs bring different perspectives on the different problems. Security of the VMO site was the primary concern for Staff Sgt. Jeremy Carey, HHC 2-503rd and mission NCOIC.

The primary security concern being the proper flow of people in and out of the site.

Having an experienced team run the missions has paid dividends in lessons learned.

“A problem that we have had is transferring equipment from one location to the next,” said Carey, “We have eliminated that by putting out a basic packing list and consolidating everything into small boxes that we can load onto Gators (small four-wheel drive vehicles).”

This mission had a different feel to it, probably because of Ramadan, according to Gaspard. “People are a little more tired and a little hungrier and the populace is just a little irritated at life right now.”

“We started out each day a little slow. Normally at the beginning of the day we have 100 males, 50 children and 20 females waiting, whereas here we opened up and didn’t have anybody. They slowly trickled in.”

While the crowds were smaller than usual, they did eventually file in with doctors treating approximately 500 men, women and children every day, according to Maj. John Drobnica, a doctor from the 46th Medical Detachment, Texas National Guard unit.

The doctors have seen a commonality in the ailments they have treated.

“Most of the problems that we see are abdominal or stomach discomfort probably because of the food source,” said Drobnica.

Headaches and joint pain also top the list, according to Drobnica.

The lifestyle, environment, and malnutrition are the main culprits.

“They have poor nutrition, and they are an agrarian society and they work their bottoms off.” said Drobnica.

A strong effort was made to get Afghan doctors involved in this mission for the purpose of getting local people used to seeing Afghan doctors and also to be able to refer difficult cases to local hospitals, according to Drobnica.

“The goal over time is for us to be a supporting force and not the delivery force for health care,” said Drobnica.

(Editor’s note: Staff Sgt. Jacob Caldwell serves with Combined Task Force Bayonet Public Affairs.)

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