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Medical-Assistance Visit Helps Give Afghan Children Bright Future

By Sgt. Jennifer S. Emmons, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

ARGHANDAB DISTRICT, Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2004 – The nurse tried to soothe the screaming baby as the physician assistant squeezed liquid medication into the infant's mouth.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Capt. Heather Canzoneri, a nurse with the Task Force 325th Combat Support Hospital, examines a cut on a boy's wrist during a medical-assistance visit in Arghndob, Afghanistan. Photo by Sgt. Jennifer S. Emmons, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Soldiers with Task Force Victory's Surgeon Cell were in a mountainous region of Zabul province in southern Afghanistan providing medical care to the local population and their farm animals through a cooperative medical-assistance mission.

Local children excitedly gathered to see medical professionals, many for the first time in their lives. Many of the children treated had worms because of poor hygiene and sanitation, said Army Capt. Heather Canzoneri, a nurse with the Task Force 325th Combat Support Hospital.

"These children have been deprived of health care for many reasons. That's why it's very important that we come out here and have contact with them and take care of them," she said.

The children walked from miles away, over mountainous, rocky terrain -- many with no shoes -- to meet the coalition forces and receive treatment for their medical problems.

But the mission offered more than treatment. "We are trying to teach them to (develop) better health and better hygiene (habits)," said Canzoneri.

Eventually the children will live healthier lives. "It's going to take a long time, because we have to educate the population," said Canzoneri. "But, this is the beginning. It has to start somewhere, and that's what we're here to do."

The children left their visit with the medical professionals with a packet of multivitamins, said Canzoneri. "We are giving them enough vitamins to last a week or so," she said. "But the most important thing is the fact that we are trying to build relationships."

Such medical visits also help provide a brighter future for these children by ensuring the health of the local livestock. Treating the herds is going to help the children in the long run, said Maj. Trudy Salerno, a veterinarian with the TF Victory Surgeon Cell.

"We are going to help their parents feed (the children)," she said. "We're going to keep the animals alive. We're going to increase productivity and build herd numbers so they can afford to feed their families."

"If we can increase the animal population, it'll benefit them a lot, because they will have more protein sources," said Lt. Col. Michael Lennon, a veterinarian with the TF Victory Surgeon Cell. "That's important, especially for the kids."

Nutritional diseases are a major health problem in this country, he said, noting problems stem from vitamin and protein deficiencies.

Seeing U.S. soldiers providing health care to both people and animals was a first for these young children, and they were especially intrigued seeing women soldiers working alongside the men, said Salerno. "Women here don't work with large animals. Seeing me work with cattle is opening up their view of the world quite a bit," she said.

The kids are curious about everything and have many questions, said Canzoneri. "Many of the children have trust issues because of the war and everything that's gone on in this country," she said.

Helping the children to create healthier lives for themselves will foster better relationships between coalition forces and the Afghan people, said Staff Sgt. Thomas Rodriguez, noncommissioned officer in charge of the operations section for the Task Force Victory surgeon cell.

"We are literally on the frontier of freedom," he said. "So we are putting our best foot forward by taking care of children."

(Army Sgt. Jennifer S. Emmons is assigned to the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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