Face of Defense: Medic Gives ‘Best Work’ in Afghanistan
By Army Sgt. Stephen Decatur
Special to American Forces Press Service
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Oct. 20, 2009 An Army Reserve soldier from Austin, Texas, who has been an emergency medical technician since 1993 was one of the last soldiers from Embedded Training Team Venom to leave Afghanistan’s Zabul province when Task Force Fury assumed the mission.
Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Taylor trains an Afghan National Police officer during a combat lifesaver course in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, Oct. 2, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Stephen Decatur
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Sgt. Jonathan Taylor’s mission was to train Afghan soldiers and police to perform first aid, and to provide whatever medical care he could.
“I’ve stayed here as long as I can,” Taylor said. “There’s nowhere else with such a huge medical need. I’d stay here longer if they let me. There’s lots of good work to be done.”
Since April, that work has included 315 trauma patients, 55 urgent medical evacuations, amputations, head injuries, injuries from roadside bombs and vehicle rollovers, gunshot wounds, children shot by the Taliban and just about every sort of injury imaginable, Taylor said. In addition, he saw a range of medical conditions including bacterial and fungal infections, diabetes, heart attacks, ailments from drug use and the common cold.
Taylor provided care in an environment where usually only nine or 10 other American soldiers were around in a district with 50,000 people and no doctors.
“The normal support structure didn’t exist, but the quality of care must remain,” Taylor said. “You’re the only decision maker with broad overall guidelines. There’s every medical condition you can think of -- far more than you’re qualified to handle.”
Taylor trained six Afghan soldiers up to U.S. Army medic standards, and 12 soldiers and five police officers up to combat lifesaver standards. All of the Afghan soldiers were illiterate, Taylor said.
“It’s hugely challenging teaching people who can’t read or write to be a medic,” he said. “They have to memorize everything, because they can’t take notes. The [police officers] were easier to train, because they were literate.”
Afghan police officer Abdul Halim, one of Taylor’s students, recalled a roadside-bomb attack in which a fellow policeman had his hand severed and no one knew what to do.
“I didn’t know how to help,” Halim said. “We thought the man would die, because no one could help him. Now, if I saw someone bleeding, I’m confident I could help.”
Halim said he will pass his knowledge on to his fellow police officers.
Taylor spent much of his tenure in Zabul resupplying and supporting operations. He covered 8,000 miles on the road as a driver doing resupply missions or moving between bases. Now that the embedded training teams in Zabul have been replaced by an entire battalion of combat advisors and a Stryker battalion, many more medics – as well as doctors and truck drivers -- are in the area.
“Hopefully, the greater resources will translate to a larger, more complete mentor mission,” Taylor said. “All missions in Afghanistan exist to support this mission. Everything we do is to bring the military and infrastructure up to have the capacity of managing this country’s affairs. It all exists so they can stand on their own.”
Though he rarely receives thanks for his work, Taylor said, it has been incredibly rewarding.
“I’m proud of my career outside the Army, but this is the best work I’ve done in my life,” he said.
(Army Sgt. Stephen Decatur serves in the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)