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Airman renders combat first aid to Soldiers

by Capt. Darrick Lee
Kapisa PRT Public Affairs Office

10/16/2009 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- An Air Force medic applied combat first aid to Soldiers when their vehicle was attacked by an improvised explosive device in Kapisa Province, recently.

Senior Airman Ashley Jackson, a medic deployed from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, with Kapisa Provincial Reconstruction Team was riding in a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle with Soldiers as part of a mounted combat patrol mission to inspect development projects in the province.

The team had completed its mission near Shohki village and was returning to Bagram Airfield when the MRAP was targeted. Airman Jackson, who frequently conducts combat patrols providing medical support to PRT members, said she remembers the incident vividly.

"While driving on a dirt road, we were slowing down to drive over a concrete patch when the IED went off," Airman Jackson said. "I remember getting jerked around in the vehicle, and the rear of the MRAP where I was seated filled with dust," said the native of Lakeville, Minn.

After the blast, Airman Jackson said her first memory was that of Army Sgt. David Conrad, the truck commander. Sergeant Conrad was alerting the convoy over the radio, "We hit an IED! We hit an IED!"

For a few moments, she was dazed. She recalled taking a second to wiggle her fingers and toes.

Discovering she wasn't badly hurt, she immediately began assessing the condition of the Soldiers she calls her "brothers."

Army Spc. Kenneth Harada, an infantryman with the PRT's security forces, was riding alongside Airman Jackson in the MRAP. Specialist Harada was visibly shaken and suffering from a mild concussion from the blast. According to Airman Jackson, Specialist Harada, after regaining his senses, grabbed his assault rifle and joined the rest of his team providing security of the scene, protecting the convoy against any potential hostile fire or complex attacks.

Airman Jackson took Specialist Harada's actions as a sign that he was not severely injured. After confirming that he and Sergeant Conrad were all right, she yelled out to the MRAP's driver, Army Spc. William Laing, and the crew's .50-caliber machine gunner (name withheld pending notification of family.)

"I didn't see any feet inside the turret, so I poked my head inside it," Airman Jackson said. "The restraint harness had worked, but I saw the gunner slumped over his gun, unresponsive."

She checked the gunner's airway, breathing and circulation; then she checked him for injuries. He didn't need a tourniquet, but his leg had a femur fracture. To get him onto a backboard, Airman Jackson had to get him out of the turret.

"I gave him morphine to prepare him for the pain he was about to experience when we removed him from the turret," Airman Jackson said. "I realigned his leg as best I could, trying not to cause any more damage."

With the help of the PRT's security forces, including Army Staff Sgt. Bryan Dykes, a reservist who serves as a paramedic in his civilian job, she got the gunner on a backboard and secured him to it.

Sergeant Dykes and other PRT members then focused their attention on the driver, who managed to open the door of the destroyed vehicle. He was lying on the ground when Airman Jackson saw him.

"The driver was breathing and was responsive, but couldn't move," Airman Jackson said. "As I talked to him, he alerted me that he was in pain."

The MRAP, although completely destroyed, had functioned according to its design. All of its passengers were alive, but they needed more medical attention. Airman Jackson returned to tend to the gunner, while Sergeant Dykes and other members of the convoy moved the driver and the truck commander near her, making it easier for her to monitor all of them in one central location.

While the team tended to the injured, the convoy commander, Army Sgt. Rob Feiser, radioed for help, summoning helicopters to medically evacuate the crew. Airman Jackson and Sergeant Dykes monitored the injured until an Air Force pararescue team on an HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 33rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron arrived a few minutes later.

During the flight to the hospital, she helped the pararescue team create a makeshift sling to limit movement of the injured until they arrived at the emergency room at Bagram Airfield. After thorough examinations, Airman Jackson and Specialst Harada were released, while Sergeant Conrad, Specialist Laing and the gunner remained to receive extensive care for more serious injuries.

Airman Jackson said she is grateful to have survived such an experience. She's also glad she was able to perform her job. Although she has received extensive training as a medic and has seen medical emergencies before, this was her first time performing combat lifesaving skills in hostile territory.

"When I first received orders to Afghanistan, I thought that I would just be helping Afghan people. You know, giving local children vaccinations and providing basic clinical care to impoverished communities in Afghanistan," Airman Jackson said. "It was when I went through three months of training with the Army at Camp Atterbury, Ind., that I realized my primary mission while deployed was to take care of my guys while our team goes outside the wire."

As PRTs venture into local communities to interact with the Afghan people, their movement to and from development sites is often the subject of insurgent attacks. The training she received at Camp Atterbury was Army-specific, focusing on mounted gunnery, combat lifesaving skills, convoy operations and other traditional ground-combat techniques to help defend against such hostilities.

With this experience behind her, Airman Jackson said she is more confident now, knowing she won't "freeze up" and can perform when called upon. She urged other Air Force medics to prepare to do the same.

"Air Force medics need to know that we're a changing military. We have different expectations now than we did a few years ago," Airman Jackson said. "In other words, they need to be ready to pick up a weapon and go outside the wire when called upon."

It was not long, in fact only a few days, before Airman Jackson did just that, donning her body armor, grabbing her weapons and going on patrol outside the wire with the PRT again. When asked how she felt about the remainder of her deployment in light of surviving an IED attack, she replied: "I need to take care of my brothers, and now I know I can do my job. The rest of this deployment is going to be OK."

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