News: Medical operations in Afghanistan: Continued success as ANSF takes the lead
Story by Cpl. Mariah Best
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – When it comes to casualties of war, everyday tasks become critical within seconds. Spectrums of military assets are zeroed in around the situation at hand, accounting for every single miniscule detail.
Weather, terrain, location, transportation, and severity of injury are all things that must be accounted for before troops can get medical treatment for their injuries.
The joint forces team that makes up the Patient Evacuation Coordination Cell coordinates all medical and tactical evacuations across three provinces in southern Afghanistan for Regional Command (South), and assists in requested Afghan National Security Force medical operations.
“The coordination of all aspects of MEDEVAC and TACEVAC requires an intimate knowledge of current operations, medical treatment facility status, weather status, aircraft status and maintenance issues,” 1st Lt. Aaron Berg, Combined Joint ANSF development medical officer, said.
To coordinate a typical medical mission, the PECC is in constant communication with all military air and ground assets that have a role in assuring the evacuation goes smoothly and quickly.
“It is very much a team-based approach,” said Flight Lt. Jason Lynam, Officer Commanding for the PECC RC (S). “All elements need to work effectively to ensure everyone is well supported.”
Berg added that keeping all elements informed throughout the process offers the best chance for damage control and increases the patient’s chance for survival.
“We pride ourselves on the professionalism of our team and the sense of commitment to ensure the fastest, most suitable care is given to soldiers under the umbrella of RC (S),” Berg, said.
While the PECC’s main focus is to support International Security Assistance Force medical missions, they also work closely with the ANSF Operational Coordination Center (Regional South), a regional hub for ANSF pillars, as they continue to establish a medical common operating picture, to support and assist in ANSF medical operations.
While ANSF continues to improve on their capabilities, a decline in medical mission requests has been seen compared to in previous years, Berg said.
Establishing a MEDCOP at the OCC-R has helped all pillars of ANSF understand the benefit of tracking medical patients and operations.
“Over the past five months since (Combined Joint Task Force 4th Infantry Division) has been here, we have seen a continuing trend of ANSF led evacuations via ground CASEVAC and an ever improving air CASEVAC capability on the Kandahar Air Wing’s behalf,” Berg said.
Captain Nolan Ellis, 201st Security Force Assistance Team medical advisor, is the sole ISAF medical advisor at the OCC-R and is in charge of ensuring all of the ANSF pillars understand the unique importance and relevance of patient tracking and the CASEVAC process.
“They have come a long way, there has been a big effort and a push to make the MEDCOP more relevant to ensure all casualties are taken care of,” said Ellis.
Since his start at the OCC-R in July, Ellis has helped simplify battle drills, creating a process that any ANSF duty officer could understand if put in that position.
“Cpt. Ellis has things going well. All seven of the ANSF duty officers are acquainted with patient tracking, seven line CASEVAC receiving and the MEDCOP has been expedited by tracking (medical movements) on their large battle map,” Berg said. “All duty officers now have the capability to track each seven line request that is received at OCC-R and will have the ability to guide units with casualties to local ANSF, ISAF or civilian medical facilities in their area.”
In the past two months Ellis has already seen major improvements.
“Medical evacuation requests and patient transfer request time has been cut in half and they have developed a capability to tell troops where to go via ground assets to get to a medical facility,” Ellis said.
The PECC and the OCC-R are working examples of ANSF led operations as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization mission winds down. The Afghan National Security Forces continue to rise to the challenge and take the lead in casualty evacuations.
“The ANSF are certainly showing their competence,” Berg said.
Berg recently made a trip to the OCC-R to establish a tactical operations center and provide a capability to conduct coordination and synchronization roles throughout the region for the ANSF.
“They were very receptive to me going over there and providing them with the skills to track evacuations and coordinate assets through the (Afghan National Army) 205th Corps and KAW,” Berg said. “They were also put through a medical operations course that integrated the necessary criteria required to correctly track casualties.”
“Each of the soldiers gleaned valuable information from this scenario and took away the importance of communication, sense of urgency and necessary steps they must take to ensure the highest probity of survival in this theatre operation,” he added.
Berg explained that overall, the OCC-R’s upward trajectory is promising, and while there are cultural challenges involved, ANSF have a robust setup with improving personnel and are setting themselves up to be the standard for coordination, synchronization, battle tracking, CASEVAC authority, and patient tracking within the region.
“The major take away is that ISAF is working closely and continuing in-depth advising of the ANSF, but this whole process is going to take time and a team effort to ultimately be as successful as the Afghan people deserve,” Berg said.
Regardless of the force, the mission is to save soldiers’ lives.
“A successful day in the PECC is when ANSF can provide their own point of injury care, utilizing tourniquets and ground CASEVAC or MEDEVAC patients using KAW,” Lynam said. “That is what we are working toward: when they can provide their own casualty management from point of injury to medical facility.”
The PECC and the OCC-R medical staff have been conducting successful medical missions daily and are always working to reach long and short-term goals.
“I don’t think there is any greater honor on the battlefield than being able to support those who are injured,” Lynam said. “Knowing that all troops on ground have the faith and confidence in the MEDEVAC asset we provide and trust that MEDEVAC process ensures that we can get them the highest level of care.”
Across the board, having all elements work together is what makes the PECC and the OCC-R staff successful in providing the best care for soldiers.
“Each of the ISAF nations’ most important resources are the soldiers. Our goal here in the PECC is to provide the quickest most effective MEDEVAC to the soldier fighting the fight and conducting the missions outside the wire,” Berg said. “We owe it to them to do whatever is necessary to coordinate the resources required to help them.”