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Sgt. Stephen Decatur, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs
Base Atghar - 10.20.2009
A logistics convoy was driving across the desert, Oct. 13, to resupply Afghan and American soldiers at Forward Operating Base Atghar in the remote Atghar District of Afghanistan's Zabul province. An Afghan route clearance patrol from 1st Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps led the way, followed by a combined force of Afghan soldiers, police, and American Paratroopers from 4th Brigade Combat Team (Task Force Fury), 82nd Airborne Division serving as combat advisors.
An Afghan national army pickup truck cruised up the side of convoy and hit an improvised explosive device. Two Afghan soldiers were killed instantly, but the other four survived their wounds because of life-saving first aid. Among the first on the scene were medics from the ANA and Afghan national police.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Taylor, a reservist from Austin, Texas, has been an emergency medical technician since 1993, and serves as a medic in the Army. Taylor was one of the last Soldiers from Embedded Training Team Venom to leave Zabul when they were replaced by TF Fury. His mission was to train Afghans 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 medevacs, amputations, head injuries, IEDs, vehicle rollovers, sucking chest wounds, gunshot wounds, children shot by the Taliban and just about every sort of injury imaginable, Taylor said. There was also every kind of medical condition; bacterial infections, fungal infections, diabetes, heart attacks, drug use and the common cold.
All of that care was provided in an environment where there were usually only nine or 10 other American Soldiers around and no doctors in a district with 50,000 people.
"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 ANA soldiers up to U.S. Army medic standards, 12 up to combat lifesaver standards, and five Afghan National Police up to CLS standards. All of the ANA Soldiers were illiterate, Taylor said.
"It's hugely challenging teaching people who can't read or write to be a medic," Taylor said. "They have to memorize everything because they can't take notes. The ANP were easier to train because they were literate."
ANP soldier Abdul Halim was one of the Afghans Taylor trained. He remembers one IED attack where 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 that he will pass his knowledge on to his fellow police.
During Taylor's tenure in Zabul, much of his time and effort was spent resupplying and supporting operations. He covered 8,000 miles on the road as driver doing resupply or moving between bases. Now that the ETTs in Zabul have been replaced by an entire battalion of combat advisors and a Stryker battalion, there are many more medics. There are even doctors and truck drivers.
"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."
Even though he rarely receives thanks for his work, it has been incredibly rewarding, Taylor said.
"I'm proud of my career outside the Army, but this is the best work I've done in my life," Taylor said.