TEN YEARS LATER
#13 The Expense
March 11, 2012…Forward Operating Base Edinburgh, Helmand
province, Afghanistan…Sunday again. It is the one day that I seem to
not lose track of. The others are all a blur. The mornings are brisk
with a breeze and the daytimes are mild. Skies have been clear and the
mountains were able to be seen lately in all directions. The snow that
covered the ones in the far off distance has mostly melted now. Dust
is beginning to obscure the view today. Here comes summer.
The past few days have been relatively uneventful as far as missions
go. Once again, no American casualties have been medevaced
originating from this location except one that was injured by a booby
trapped door on a local's home. The Marine sustained a broken upper
arm as well as a laceration. It was a night mission. Taking photos at
night is nearly impossible. There are light restrictions which cannot be
fudged for safety reasons.
I was thinking back to what an artist does with his work. Sometimes he
just paints because he has to. Then he puts the finished work in some
corner in the storage shed and never looks at it again. But the painting
is there and one day someone may come across it and see it and really
appreciate it. My good friend LB, who has been painting for longer
than I've been alive, tells me I'm an artist. He bases that on things he
knows about me and the work I've shown him. I look forward to having
a bottle of wine with LB upon my return and showing him some
"artwork" that others will never see. LB is a good friend.
The events of the past few days have been mostly transporting injured
locals that find themselves in all kinds of quandaries. Lots of vehicle
accidents as well as other things. There is a set of circumstances and
procedures that usually must be met before any medevac mission is
launched. How those determinations are met are not completely clear
to me. From the vantage point I am in, it simply boils down to, a
person is hurt, a call comes in and the medevac resources are
dispatched and the patient is picked up. That is all I know.
Case in point. A call came in last evening that a local national had
been shot in the face. The process began and two medevac helicopters
from here were dispatched to pick up the "patient". This is routine.
Also in the night sky, were other aviation assets that were in proximity.
So, for arguments sake, a handful of helicopters were dispatched for a
call to pick up a "patient". Now as more information came forth it was
determined that the patient had done something not so bright in order
to end up being shot in the face by the Afghan National Army soldier,
(ANA). Turns out that the local national decided to run a checkpoint
operated by the ANA.
Let me review….
Local Afghan resources participate in taking responsibility for their
own security. ANA soldier does his job, shoots bad guy trying to bust
through check point. Bad guy sustains bullet wound to face. This
would have been the end of the story if indeed the Afghan system was
allowed to function on its own. The bad guy would probably have died
and others would be hesitant to run the check point next time.
However, that is not what happens, yet.
Currently, hundreds of thousands of dollars of US assets are employed
to save bad guys life. This is just to pick up the patient. Then, once
he is picked up, he is brought to the medical facility here where dozens
of US medical personnel frantically exercise their skills to save this
person's life. Hours go by, patient is stabilized and then once again
patient is air transported to another medical facility where additional
first class medical attention is rendered to bad guy. Again, thousands
and thousands of dollars expended working on severely injured bad
guy. It is an amazing system. Bad guy gets incredible health care in
the war zone while back at home, 50-million Americans go uninsured
and are turned away from time to time just for being sick. Maybe the
uninsured in America should learn to run through checkpoints if they
get sick and are in need of medical attention.
I'm just sayin'…..
In the past few days, I've seen lots of medical attention being given to
local Afghans who otherwise would have to fend for themselves. It is
not my intention to pass judgement on this matter. Rather, it is
something that I see here and what the folks back home may not be
aware of. Whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, affordable or too
expensive, is not something I am employed to decide. This is just what
I see going on ten years later here in the war in Afghanistan.
Maybe those making decisions in Washington D.C. about things here
aren't aware of what is going on. Maybe they are. Maybe it is related
to the whole hearts and minds thing. Maybe it is because it is an
election year. Whatever the case may be, at some point in time,
whether in the near or not so near future, the Afghan population will
have to care for their own people when shot by their own people or
when in vehicle accidents with each other.
On a night mission it is very difficult to take a good photograph
without using a blinding flash, which is strictly prohibited. This is why I
then go to plan "B" which is to take photos at the STP here on the FOB
after the patient is unloaded from the helicopter and I then exit the
aircraft as well. The medical folks in charge arranged for me to be
approved to be able to document what they do when their skills are
called upon. I've been in these environments many, many times over
the course of the past ten years. It is nothing new to me. It's not my
first rodeo. I know how to stand back out of the way and take a
photograph without flash. It is one of the few things I do well once in
In between things here at the FOB, basketball on the television is a big
thing. It is coming up on March madness and the University of New
Mexico Lobo men's basketball team just won the Mountain West
conference championship. Most everybody here was up in the middle
of the night watching the game. I chose to sleep. I knew I needed to
be fresh in the morning in order to get things done on my end. But it
is fun to see everyone talking about the Lobos winning and how they
will fare in the NCAA tournament.
In the mean time, there may or may not be missions today. The air is
ugly and visibility is nearly nil at the moment. There has been lots of
rotor noise at night that once in a while wakes me up. In a war zone, it
is always busy, somewhere. Where I am is one of those places that it is
busy often. Thankfully, it has not been so busy shuttling wounded
Marines to medical attention. I believe however, those times are
coming because the weather is getting warmer. Until that time comes,
I will find other things to share with the audience.
Ten years later, here in the war in Afghanistan, there are still plenty of
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