'Major' medical mentoring taking place in Afghanistan
By Senior Airman Steve Bauer, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 30, 2010
VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
Similarly, this Chinese proverb coincides with the efforts of a Vandenberg Airman who is mentoring Afghan medical personnel in a country that has been at war for more than 30 years.
Maj. Carl Erickson, from the 30th Medical Operations Squadron, is currently deployed to Forward Operating Base Lindsey near Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan, where he is serving as a medical mentor for the Afghan National Police-Medical Training Advisory Group.
"Our main purpose is to advise and assist the Regional Surgeon to establish some sort of medical infrastructure for the Afghan National Police in the Southern Region of Kandahar," said Major Erickson.
Each day varies for the U.S. medical mentors, but most days begin with a morning meeting to discuss the day's plans. A few hours are spent each day interacting with Afghan partners. Some of the training includes scenario based mentoring with the Afghan physicians. Every interaction and duty preformed is then later documented by the U.S. medical mentors.
"Since this is ultimately a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) mission, a majority of our duties also include coordinating with other mentors on the line side as they stand up varies sections of the Afghan National Police," Major Erickson said.
Although the U.S. medical personnel are fully trained to be mentors, numerous factors are still hindering the establishment of a medical infrastructure in certain regions of Afghanistan.
Most of the educated population lives in the north, near Kabul, Afghanistan, and they do not want to leave their families to work in the south, which makes staffing extremely difficult. Additionally, the local cities and villages have security issues, said Major Erickson.
"Several of the Afghans working with the coalition forces have been threatened by the Taliban," he said. "Logistics is extremely difficult due to being a pull system of logistics. A logistician has to hand-carry a logistics request to a central warehouse, which usually means a trip to Kabul. More so, there is a lack of cooperation between the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and the Ministry of Public Health. However, the coalition has chipped away at some of the barriers and the Afghans are cooperating more than they used to. Still not great, but it's improving."
Since Major Erickson is not a healthcare administrator by training, he has had to adapt to overcome some unforeseen challenges.
"I have needed to adjust my focus on what is a priority for the mission - establishing a medical infrastructure with clinics and staffing," Major Erickson said. "Plus, we, as mentors, have to step back and advise. The Afghans need to establish a system that is sustainable for their people, with consideration of the advice we offer."
Despite the challenges that have been faced, i.e. lack of resources, foreign politics and security issues, the medical mentors are beginning to see the fruits of their labor in Afghanistan.
"Progress has been made on the Afghan National Army side throughout the country and within in the Afghan National Police in the north," said Major Erickson. "We are only the second team to rotate through this tasking, so we are still establishing and advising for a system to take shape."
Additionally, the U.S. military has been teaching the Afghan army and police forces basic Self Aid and Buddy Care and Combat Life Skills. Although most courses have been originally taught by U.S. personnel, as time progresses, more and more Afghans are leading the courses.
Although Major Erickson's role in Afghanistan will come to a halt at the end of his six-month deployment, what he and the other medical mentors have done is instilled their knowledge into the minds of the Afghan physicians in hopes that one day Afghanistan's medical infrastructure will be self-sufficient and able to cater to the needs of the people of their nation.