Monday, 25 June 2007

Week 22--Progress Continues

Progress contines here at FOB Salerno. A long, hot summer continues, but so does progress.

We got some good press last week. BBC news was here in Afghanistan reporting on the progress of the war. They did a story on the mother and baby we treated recently after she was shot in the abdomen. It's a very good story and it was also picked up by ABC News (and maybe some others I'm not aware of yet).

Check out these links to the story on BBC News and ABC News.

ABC News: Survival in the Middle East:

BBC News: US Troops in Dramatic Rescue.

Now, the funny thing is, they could do these stories every day. Every day the news media could do stories on the good things we are doing here in Afghanistan or Iraq or in any country where US Forces are currently serving. I can see the headlines now: hospitals opened, schools opened, roads built, lives changed and hope restored. Instead, they choose to focus on our mistakes or failures. It can be frustrating, knowing the truth and seeing the reports. But I guess that's the price of a free press.

I can't speak for everywhere, but I know what we do here at FOB Salerno. We have a mandate to treat any patient if their injury is caused by Coalition Forces, and we provide the same level of care to everyone; US or Afghan, men, women and children, young or old, enemy or friendly. But, above and beyond this care, I can personally name many children we have treated; with burns, gunshot wounds, amputations, sharpnel wounds, falls and vehicle accidents. And these injuries were not caused by Coalition Forces. They are just everyday tragedies that occur in a violent, dangerous country. Still, we treat those we can, and we train the Afghan doctors and nurses to care for their own better, so that when we leave they will do well on their own. We are building independence, not dependence on US Forces.

Here are three children in our Local National Clinic. Every morning this clinic is full of Afghans seeking care. But we don't just treat the patients, we train Afghan doctors to care for Afghan patients better, so when we are gone they will still be here caring for their own people.

And we do have some long-term patients. This little boy spent over 6 weeks in our ICU. His wounds have healed, but now he's got a long road recovering from those wounds and getting healthy. So, we're working with him and his family to ensure the best possible outcome for him. The future of Afghanistan is in the hands of his generation, so we do whatever we can to ensure his future.

And since we're going to be here for a long time, we continue to build and improve our position. The new hospital is coming along well. Here's a picture of the front door of the new hospital. It will get prettier in time!

Our new Brick and Mortar building is coming along also. I took a few pictures of the roof construction. Before long we will be out of tents completely!

Finally, I got off the FOB again recently and got a few pictures of the Afghan countryside. It's a beautiful country, with unlimited potential. If only they could learn to settle their differences with words instead of guns.

Thank you for your support and encouragement. Please remember those wounded in combat, whether they have visible injuries or not. And remember the families of the deployed Soldiers; they have the hardest job of all.

Phillips, out.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Week 21--Winning the War

Well, we have our youngest patient yet. I don't think they get much younger. This little boy's mother was shot in the abdomen. We saved the mom and delivered the baby, who suffered a minor wound from the bullet. Mom and baby are doing fine, and my staff is enjoying caring for a newborn baby.

I don't know why anyone would think we are losing this war. From my foxhole, it looks like we are winning the war in Afghanistan. I know that's not what the news reports, but I have found that there is a disconnect between what the news reports and the reality I see on the ground in Afghanistan.

We treat so many Afghan civilian patients, and every time I talk to them they thank me for being here, they thank me for taking care of them, they thank me for "rescuing" their country from the Taliban and the terrorists.

We treat so many Afghan Soldiers, and every time I talk to them, even after they have suffered serious wounds, they ask me when they can get back to their fellow Soldiers and when they can go back to fight the terrorist who have taken over their country. They are proud to serve their country and fight alongside US Soldiers against the Taliban and the terrorists.

We treat too many US Soldiers, and I have never talked to one wounded Soldier in my hospital who did not ask when he could get back in the fight. No matter how seriously wounded they were, they always asked about their fellow Soldiers and wanted to know how they were doing and when they could get back to them, back to the fight. I now know that those stories from the movies, about wounded Soldiers leaving the hospital to rejoin their units before the next big offensive are not just fiction, but true stories about real heroes who would rather die than abandon their brothers and sisters in arms.

I've seen too many killed in action, but with every one, US or Afghan, I've watched his friends and fellow Soldiers say goodbye, then pick up their gear and go right back out to continue the fight. Afghan and US Soldiers, fighting together, feel a sense of duty to the fallen to continue the fight, to win the fight, and honor the sacrifices of their brothers and sisters in arms.

And because of what we are doing, schools are open all over Afghanistan. On a recent trip we stopped at a District Center, right next to a primary school. There weren't many cars in sight, but as you can see there were lots of bicycles and motorbikes.

I asked where all the kids came from, because we were far from the town, and I was told that children come from miles around, just like a country school in the US. It was hot, and there was no air conditioning, so many classes had moved outside for the afternoon, in the shade of the trees. I remember doing the same thing in elementary school, on hot days in Texas.

I asked who built the school, and I was greeted with thumbs up and smiles as they said "America built this school!" Little boys and little girls sat side-by-side, reading and laughing and playing just like kids anywhere in the world.

Closer to my FOB, a school was recently burned to the ground. When I asked my Afghan friends who burned the school they said, "The Taliban burned the school." They did this because it was a place where little girls could sit side-by-side with little boys and learn to read.
Friends of mine in another unit replaced that burned out school the next day with tents and school supplies, and the kids came back the next day. Despite the danger of another attack, they came back to learn to read, and to laugh and play, just like kids anywhere in the world.

A friend of mine in Iraq, Tom Harrison, once wrote an email entitled, "Iraqis are from Mars; Americans are from Venus", detailing the differences in cultures and how it complicated our ability to accomplish the mission in Iraq. The generals in Iraq are only now beginning to understand and act on the insights Tom had in 2004.
The same problems exist here; We will never fully understand our Afghan hosts. But in Afghanistan we've got true partners in the Afghan Security Forces and in many of the Afghan people. We will never remake Afghanistan into Arizona, but we can help make it into a better, safer, more peaceful Afghanistan. The generals here get it, and they are doing what it takes to win.

We are winning the war in Afghanistan, with great sacrifice and at great cost to US and Afghan and Coalition Soldiers. I get tired of this job, and I get tired of being away from home and I get tired of war, but then I think of those who have sacrificed so much more than I have, and then I'm not tired anymore. I just hope America doesn't get tired.

Phillips, out.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Week 20--Groundhog Day, Again.

I guess I'm not the most consistent blogger, and that must be frustrating for some of you. Around here every day is Groundhog Day; the days all run together with nothing to break up the monotony. It makes it hard to find things to write about.
Even with all the trauma we have seen lately, it all runs together. After nearly five months it all runs together; the patients, the traumas, the wounds, the surgeries, the days, the weeks, the months...

So, to mark the passage of time I've been documenting the progress on the new hospital and the new "brick and mortar" building being constructed near my TOC (Tactical Operation Center). As I've said before, it's facinating to watch the construction, particularly since they use only the most basic tools. I've never been good with tools or construction, but I'm facinated by those who can build and create using wood and stone and tools.

I can't even imagine what we pay these "local national" workers, but it can't be much. And yet, it must be a good, living wage because there is no shortage of laborers for all the construction going on here at the FOB.

I thought it was interesting to see how they braced the door frame. When using brick and mortar construction it's important to ensure things "set" before they are required to bear weight.

And the new hospital continues to rise, right before our eyes. The latest developments; door frames.

It will be nice to work indoors, someday. I don't think I'll be here to see it, but it will be a great blessing to those who follow me in this mission.

I saw this Jingle water buffalo at the construction site and just had to take a picture. It reminded me of the painted houses in Bavaria. It seems a thousand years since I wandered the beautiful streets of Garmisch and Oberammergau. Jingle water buffalos just don't compare, now that I think about it.

I don't know why they paint things around here, but it is quite common. I've seen "Jingle" trucks, cars, wagons, carts, water trailers...I've even seen a Jingle Rifle. I guess it is a reaction to the otherwise drab surroundings and difficult life they live here.

But through all the monotony and trauma, we continue to save and change lives. This child was hit by sharapnel and brought to our hospital. He's doing better now, but he's been touch and go for almost three weeks. Patients like this are emotionally draining and satisfying at the same time.

Not the most interesting post, but a reflection of the monotony of my life here on the FOB. it is truly hours and days of boredom, punctuated by moments of terror and pain and fear.

I'll try to blog more regularly.

Phillips, out.