Saving lives: Afghan air force medic team learns ‘critical’ skills


By Petty Officer 2nd Class Vladimir Potapenko

The Afghan soldier was in trouble. With his eyes sitting heavy and glazed-over in their sockets, the soldier’s condition had worsened.

He now had to be removed from the C-27A Spartan aircraft that had been flown to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, to transport him and other Afghan National Security Force troops to Kabul for further medical attention, and it had to be done quickly.

Tech. Sgt. Derek Odom, an aeromedical technician adviser with the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, responded immediately. Quickly explaining the situation to the two Afghan air force medical evacuation professionals, Sergeant Odom was able to have the injured soldier carried off the aircraft and into a waiting ambulance.

Though in critical condition and possibly suffering from a pneumothorax, a collection of air or gas in between the lung and the chest wall, the Afghan soldier’s life had been saved due to the efforts of Sergeant Odom and Afghan air force sergeants Abdul Malik and Fazil Manalha.

If he had not been on the flight as it had taken off, the soldier’s condition may have exacerbated en route to Kabul, Sergeant Odom said.

“I choose to do this job because I am serving my country,” Sergeant Manalha explained. “I love my job because those are my Muslim brothers on the battlefield helping to stabilize this country, and it is my responsibility to take care of them.”

And it is a responsibility that Sergeants Manalha, Malik and Odom take seriously as medical evacuation technicians.

Twice a week, the two Afghan sergeants fly with Sergeant Odom to various posts in Afghanistan to collect patients who will receive medical treatment in Kabul.

The two Afghan flight medics receive hands-on training while looking after patients during these long hours of flights, Sergeant Odom said.

“They are coming along very well,” he said. “We started at the very bottom and we are building them up.”

Through this training, Sergeants Manalha and Malik have been able to successfully apply what they have been taught during pressure situations, such as with the soldier who was recently transported to Kandahar Airfield.

“I have had several emergency situations with them and they have responded very well,” Sergeant Odom said. “They are eager to learn and they have helped save lives.”

“We are proud of ourselves and what we can do,” said Sergeant Malik, who is working his way to becoming a medical evacuation instructor. “We have learned a lot, reading vital signs, patient care and emergency procedure, and we feel comfortable doing what the situation calls for on these missions.”

Sergeant Malik’s is a pride that comes from understanding the importance of their mission and its connection to the sacrifices made by others on the front lines, Sergeant Odom said.

“We’re the lifeline for those injured,” Sergeant Odom said. “Down in Kandahar (Airfield), they get them stabilized and we go down and pick them up. We also open spend time opening more beds in Kandahar (Airfield) so that more injured Afghan soldiers can be taken care of at the first stage. We make sure they are fully taken care of.

“We are standing up the aero-medical evacuation program for the Afghan Air Force,” he said. “We are making it so that the Afghans can accomplish these missions on their own, and that is a big step in diminishing our (coalition) footprint in the country.”

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