News: 1st Area Medical Laboratory comes home
Story by Maj. Carol McClelland
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Soldiers from the 1st Area Medical Laboratory returned home June 9 following a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan where they trained U.S. and Afghan military and civilians, provided technical support to U.S. and coalition forces, and performed surveillance and analytical laboratory testing for environmental, toxicological, endemic disease, and chemical, biological and radiological threats.
The unit was the first AML since activation in 2004 to be deployed to combat operations. Part of the 44th Medical Command and XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, N.C., the 1st AML is headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground and is made up of highly specialized career fields and soldier-scientists. They achieved numerous successes during their deployment and the unit was nominated for a Meritorious Unit Citation.
“The accomplishments that have been made have been tremendous and will have a lasting impact not only on the units that remain but those yet to come,” said Col. Beau Freund, commander. “I believe we left the country and the people of Afghanistan in a better position to provide for their own long after our departure.”
The 1st AML developed a sustainable clinical bacteriology training program that the Afghan national army implemented where none existed before. The Afghan national army health care system operates under extremely challenging conditions and resource limitations, according to the award recommendation write up.
The 1st AML developed 65 hours of instruction for five Afghan national army laboratory officers with topics like culture media preparation, bacterial culture, quality control, and diagnostic techniques for wound and urine specimens. The 1st AML’s efforts established new laboratory capabilities, promoted Afghan leadership of their laboratory and improved the medical care provided to approximately 10,000 Afghan national army soldiers and their families, according to the citation.
Members of the 1st AML also improved the water quality and safety for Kandahar City residents by developing sustainable water quality test standards for treatment effectiveness and baseline condition measurement as part of the Kandahar City water testing pilot program. In absence of national standards, the Afghanistan Urban Water Supply and Sewage Corporation and the director of the Kandahar Public Hospital adopted the standards recommended by the 1st AML. Soldiers in the AML then trained AUWSSC staff and Kandahar City University students to perform the water quality tests and interpret the results, enabling them to conduct water quality testing for the Kandahar City municipal water supply system, which serves a local population of 468,000. Before that effort, there was no testing of communal well pumps or AUWSSC-provided water within Kandahar City.
But the 1st AML soldiers didn’t just help the people of Afghanistan.
They also provided training and advice to International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan units. They trained laboratory staff at the base hospital on preparation, staining, and reading of malaria blood films and on the performance of bacteriological culture, identification, and antimicrobial susceptibility testing and helped hospital staff establish standard operating procedures and quality control measures for many of their microbiology tests. They investigated medical cases including an active tuberculosis exposure, a fever breakout in an Australian unit, symptoms of a blood borne pathogen, and helped diagnose a parasitic disease spread by a sand fly bite in a 9-year-old Afghan girl.
The 1st AML was also a key contributor to work done by the USFOR-A Malaria Working Group. Members of the 1st AML developed the plan for mosquito surveillance and analysis, provided guidance on the laboratory diagnosis of human cases, and co-authored a paper recommending revisions to the theater malaria chemoprophylaxis policy. Additionally, members designed and published theater-wide health communication materials on malaria and influenza which is expected to reduce force illness.
With the unit’s accomplishments ranging from sending teams to conduct occupational and environmental health site assessments across the theater to collecting radiation readings and testing samples, the unit has an impressive myriad of achievements.
But none of that mattered to 3-year-old Isabel Wager, who didn’t want to wait any longer and ran to her daddy before he was released from formation at the homecoming ceremony, or 9-year-old Amya Harris who said, “I just missed my daddy,” or even Maj. Chris Mayhugh who greeted his wife, with son and daughter in tow, after caring for them as a single parent for the past year while attending a graduate program full time.
“I’ve been on both sides of a deployment and I can say this side is definitely the toughest,” Mayhugh said.