Face of Defense: Soldiers Teach Afghan Police First Aid
By Sgt. Matthew Clifton, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK, Afghanistan, Feb. 29, 2008 Two combat medics have devoted their time to teaching Afghan police officers one of the most important soldier skills: first aid.
New York Army National Guard Spc. Richard L. Bacher, a medic with 1st Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, , helps a student find his radial pulse during a first aid class given to Logar Province Afghan National Police, Feb. 20, 2008, at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Matthew Clifton, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Every other week, Army Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Wells, Joint Forces Headquarters, Arizona Army National Guard, and Army Spc. Richard L. Bacher, 1st Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment, New York Army National Guard, teach a first aid class to about 20 Afghan National Police officers from Logar province.
The class is reminiscent of first aid classes U.S. soldiers go through. The topics include stopping bleeding, as well as checking a casualty’s airway, breathing and circulation.
The class also covers checking for wounds, treating shock, applying field dressings and tourniquets, treating sucking chest wounds, splinting fractures and treating head wounds.
“Teaching this stuff is challenging, because we have to take the same curriculum we use and modify it so the ANP understand,” Wells said. “For example, we use the ‘ABCs of first aid’ to explain searching for an airway, breathing and circulation. Our guys understand that, but the ANP have no idea what ‘A,’ ‘B’ or ‘C’ stands for, so we have to modify things.”
One method instructors use to help the Afghan police grasp the importance of their lessons is to use real-life events as vignettes in their classes.
“Because these guys have to drive around in the back of their trucks, a lot of the injuries we see come from when they flip their truck and fall out,” Bacher said. “So whenever we present an injury scenario, we’ll put it in the context of a fellow policeman being thrown out of the back of his truck.”
The high rate of illiteracy among the Afghans comes into play as well, and since the Afghan police cannot take notes, hands-on training becomes paramount, Wells said. But, he added, their inability to read and write has not affected their willingness to learn.
“These guys are super-attentive, and when we do our hands-on portion of the class, you can really tell they have paid attention,” Bacher said. “It’s not perfect, but they are progressing well.”
One issue Wells and Bacher have noticed is that the Afghan police tend to rush casualties to the hospital without trying to administer first aid themselves. The instructors said they hope these classes will curb that tendency.
Before each class ends, Wells and Bacher review what they have taught and familiarize the policemen with the first aid equipment they will receive, as well as equipment their U.S. counterparts carry.
“We’re working on getting these guys the same equipment (U.S. soldiers) are using, but of course that takes time,” Bacher said. “Until then, we try to teach them how to be improvisational by using sticks for splints or pieces of their shirt for cravats.”
Wells and Bacher have a visibly positive attitude toward their students, and the same feeling is present in the Afghan police observers who eventually will take over the class.
“This class is very important, because our police don’t have much experience with first aid, and they need to know how to stop bleeding, treat fractures and things like that,” said 3rd Basic Officer Jamil Ala Mi, an Afghan police observer who will be taking over the class. “The students pay very good attention and will be able to take these lessons back to their districts.”
Seeing these Afghan students gives Wells an appreciation for the policemen’s willingness to learn, as well as a new gratitude for the level of first aid education that is given to U.S. soldiers, he said.
“When you’re trying to teach these guys the things we have been taught since our first day of basic training, it makes you realize just how much life-saving knowledge each of our soldiers has,” Wells said. “The most significant things these ANP can learn is when they save a life, they are helping to make Afghanistan a better place.”
(Army Sgt. Matthew Clifton serves with 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)