Sunday, July 12, 2009

43rd birthday in Kabul

Today is my 23rd birthday in the US Navy out of 43. I was trying to figure out what percentage of my birthdays I have actually been home and it wasn’t a high percentage. I am guessing that maybe I have spent 7 or 8 birthdays in Maine and 3 of those were while I was in nursing school in Fort Kent. And no, I don’t tell anyone when my birthday is

Let me bring you up to speed since I last posted. I left Bagram on 09 Jul. I started very early in the morning and it was another “fun-filled” event getting here. I started around 0200 when I got up out of bed. We started loading bags on the truck around 0230ish then did the 5 minute drive to the airfield. We unloaded all of our bags except for 3 when they told us to reload the bags back on the truck. This is 4 seabags and a rucksack for 25 people. They drove the truck onto the other side of the fence/gate so we could unload our bags again but this time onto a pallet. We had 5 rucks too many that wouldn’t fit on the pallet. I was one of the lucky ones who had to carry the ruck and backpack onto the plane when we finally loaded it around 0730. It was a 20 minute flight to Kabul International Airport. We unloaded our bags once again, but this time we had to carry them through the airport and separate them. Only 16 of us were going to New Kabul Compound (NKC). The others were going to Camp Phoenix and Camp Eggers. Their bags and rucks were loaded first, then ours were loaded. We climbed into a Rhino, which is similar to an up-armored Winnebago. It is one of the troop carriers the Army is now using in country. It is a comfortable ride. It only took us 10 or 15 minutes to get to NKC where we unloaded our bags in the parking lot. We then carried them several hundred yards and sorted them by owners while we waited for berthing. Our counterparts were off the compound at a meeting. We walked around NKC while we waited and then went to lunch. After lunch we started the RIP/TOA (Relieve in place, transfer of authority). Around mid afternoon, we had our berthing assigned and took our bags to our rooms. Hopefully, this will be the last time we move until we complete the tour.

A little about NKC:

It is a very small compound in the middle of Kabul. If you walk inside the perimeter, it is just under a klick (kilometer). There are 2 hardened barracks which most of us are berthed in. Originally, it was supposed to be 2 man rooms with 2 sets of bunk beds and 2 small lockers but there are already more people here than rooms. Most of the rooms are 3 personnel. One set of bunks are occupied by 2 men who each get a locker. The other person gets the bottom bunk and the top bunk for storage. All of us who got into the barracks are the third man, so it was top bunks for all of us. There are also GP tents set up for the overflow of personnel. These will eventually be taken down as the Army is now erecting RLB’s (Relocatable Buildings) which are similar to the conex barracks used in Iraq. I think they are 2 man rooms but I haven’t been in any of them. (When I was in Iraq, we still lived in the SWA huts).

I walk out the back gate to go to work at the ANA NMH (Afghan National Army National Military Hospital). Whenever we go outside the wire, we must wear full battle rattle (IBA, helmet, eye protection and small arms with loaded magazines inserted). Once I get to NMH, I take off the IBA and helmet, but the M9 stays on my hip including in the OR. For one, there is no secure place to lock up our weapons.

Yesterday (Saturday) was my first day at NMH. I toured the hospital with my counterpart Mary, who I am relieving, and Both the new and old Chief Nurses, Dennis and Chris. NMH was built by the Soviets when they occupied Kabul. I don’t know the full history of the hospital yet. As I learn the stories, I will share them. The Afghans are doing the best they can with what is medically available. The soldiers are extremely tough and brave. Let me give 2 examples of what I saw. One soldier recently had his right leg amputated above the knee. He was having a dressing change without any medication. He was stoic, but it hurt him. In another room, I met 2 Afghan soldiers who were burned. They were part of the group who were out looking for the missing American soldier from last week. Their tent had caught fire, and the officer was burned on his face and arms while rescuing his fellow soldiers who were also burned. They get very little pain medication because it is hard to get.

I also met the Afghan Chief nurse. We went to her office and had some Chai (Tea). The Afghans are very social. When meeting with someone, Chai is almost always offered to the guests. You have Chai and socialize before conducting any business.

Today, I went to the hospital to begin my orientation to the OR. Instead, I ended up going to an OTSG (Office of the Surgeon General) meeting for several hours with the Chief Surgeon from the Operating Theatre (Operating Room). One of the NGO’s was helping to prioritize all of the different departments in getting some new medical equipment. There is a small pot of money available to the different departments. The Doctors need to fill out some paperwork justifying what they need and why they need it, then the Surgeon General will make a decision on what they can buy from the pot of money. (I don’t know the complete story as some of the meeting was lost in translation). I have an interpreter who works with me. He is an Afghan doctor who speaks English. Unfortunately, they can make more money as an interpreter than they can as a doctor in the Afghan Army. (This is one of the overall items they hope to fix, the varying pay scales.)

For the rest of the week, I will continue the RIP/TOA. I know I am slacking on posting some pictures. Hopefully, I can post some this week.

One last note. The Afghan work week begins on Saturday and goes to Thursday. Friday is the only day off. This will take a little getting used to. Actually, there is much about this deployment and mentoring the Afghans that will take much getting used to. As I learn more about my job and expectations, I will continue to blog and share interesting stories and some Dari words….

Salaam aalaikum – Hello (Peace be upon you)

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