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American Hospital in Afghanistan Holds Health Fair

By Army Capt. Michael Greenberger
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, June 15, 2009 – The Staff Sgt. Heathe N. Craig Joint Theater Hospital here opened its doors June 13 to highlight a number of services available to servicemembers in the Regional Command East area of operations.

In an event that involved weeks of planning, the hospital staff came together to construct unique displays illustrating what individual sections have to offer.

“We put the word out to the departments, and people stepped up as smartly as they could to put these displays together,” said the hospital’s deputy commander, Air Force Col. Fred Hannan. “Warrior Care is something we take very seriously, and we wanted to give people here a taste of what the hospital has to offer – that we’re more than just shots and a pharmacy.”

At one table were members of the new Freedom Restoration Center. Open since February, the center focuses on educating servicemembers to cope with problems in a combat zone. Since opening, the Freedom Restoration Center has seen about 60 servicemembers for issues from the combat-related to the home-related.

“The goal of the Freedom Restoration Program is to get people back to their jobs,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Maribel Meekins. “We instruct people in individual coping skills and provide counseling, and our methods have led to a 99 percent return-to-duty rate.”

Combined with the Combat Stress Clinic located in the hospital, servicemembers have plenty of options to deal with the stresses associated with deployments. Inside the clinic, services like stress and anger management, suicide awareness and prevention, and combat and operational stress education round out Task Force Med-East’s abilities to provide an “ounce of prevention for a pound of cure.”

Also on hand, dental specialists displayed examples of just how much sugar is contained in a variety of soft drinks available at local dining facilities. At another, operating room staff displayed a “large frag set,” a kit containing surgical instruments and items such as plates and screws used to mend broken bones.

Set up under a shady overhang just outside the hospital’s emergency room, patrons of the event were treated to eerie specimens of snakes, spiders, and mice floating in jars – all examples of local, and potentially dangerous, wildlife in the immediate area. Hosted by the 172nd Medical Detachment, this table was dedicated to environmental health.

Members of the 172nd perform quarterly rotations in the area, visiting forward operating bases large and small to perform environmental sampling, train field sanitation teams and make sure soldiers aren’t being exposed to anything harmful.

“We promote readiness through prevention,” said the detachment’s noncommissioned officer in charge, Army Staff Sgt. Kerry Turner. “The more soldiers we can prevent from getting sick, the more the hospital can focus on more serious battle injuries.”

Rounding out a total body concept, the nutritional medicine offices let people know the facts behind supplements meant to provide “instant results” vs. a healthy diet and exercise.

“We don’t recommend the use of supplements,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Wickman. “They’re not regulated by the [Food and Drug Administration], and you don’t really know what you’re getting. Whereas, if a person eats a healthy diet, they know what they’re getting and shouldn’t need any supplements. No pill can replace a good workout in the gym.”

Vehicles used in the daily care of patients were arrayed for onlookers to view outside the hospital in a landing zone occupied by medical evacuation helicopters of the 168th General Aviation Support Battalion.

Among them was a new ambulance converted from a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle. The MRAP ambulance, new to forces in Afghanistan, offers medics quick and safe battlefield extraction of injured people. The vehicle has many features not found in other modes of medical transportation, such as a hydraulic litter-lift system and scores of trauma treatment supplies.

Also on display was a patient loader, resembling a large-container elevator used to load patients onto large aircraft that don’t have loading ramps.

“This is the first time this type of event has been done here,” Hannan said. “But we hope to make this a regular event in the future.”

(Army Capt. Michael Greenberger serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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