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Same Ailments Found, Afghanistan To Iraq
By Jason Chudy
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 23, 2004,

MYRGEN KECHAH, Afghanistan Capt. Brad Frey treated old men and babies Thursday, dispensing cures that were as simple as antibiotics and aspirin.

It's a scene played out all over Afghanistan, Iraq and the many other countries in which America sends troops. The locations may be different, but the ailments are the same: minor infections, arthritis, cuts and bruises.

For the 1,200 or so villagers in this small town, about 30 kilometers east of Kandahar, this visit was a special occasion.

Frey, a physician's assistant with the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, along with a medic from the Romanian Army's 280th Infantry Battalion, examined patients on a simple table next to an earthen wall at the village's community center.

On the other side of the wall, two Army medics and a Navy corpsman all three of whom were female did their same for sick village women.

For many villagers, it was the first medical attention they had received in years.

"The majority are poor," villager Hagi Mohammed said through an interpreter. "People here don't have enough money to be seen as a patient in Kandahar."

With his long, white beard and tanned, wrinkled face, Mohammed sat against a wall watching the men and children receive medical treatment. He said that he's seen seven years of drought in Myrgen Kechah, 25 years of war, and a lifetime of poverty.

When asked his age, he paused and responded only that he was born here. His lifetime isn't measured in years, it's measured in poverty.

But that poverty that isn't unique to Myrgen Kechah, the troops said.

"It's the same everywhere I've been," said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Steven Hazenberg, a military policeman with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. "I spent seven months in Kuwait and Iraq ... and it's pretty much the same."

Hazenberg stood on a small hump of beige dirt, providing a loose buffer between the medical personnel and a few dozen children forming a ring around the site. Romanian soldiers from the 280th, also based at Kandahar Airfield, provided the bulk of protection for both medical personnel and the loose assembly of American Humvees and Romanian BMP armored personnel carriers.

The community center, for the most part, is a few plain buildings surrounded by an earthen wall. Stopping to talk, Maj. Wes Parker of the 486th Civil Affairs Battalion is surrounded by a group of kids and men.

"They're mostly receptive and friendly," he said about the villagers he's seen since arriving in Afghanistan. "They're accepting, as long as we respect their culture."

Thirty minutes later, Parker directs a large Army truck to back up to the front gate of the community center. Boxes of food and crates of tools are offloaded to a handful of Afghani men, who hustle them into one of the center's buildings.

After the supplies had been unloaded, and the medical teams had given out all their supplies, the three female medics emerged and walked towards their ambulance.

"We're used to ... treating just females," said Spc. Rhea Sarver of Charlie Medical, 10th Forward Support Base.

Most days, Sarver works at the "Charlie Med," the base hospital, treating her fellow soldiers.

"It makes me feel good ... helping the people here," Sarver said as she climbed into her vehicle. "It's just helping people in general, whether soldier or civilian."

Slowly, the convoy moved down the dirt track that serves as the town's main road. They drove past waving kids calling out for handouts. Dozens of earthen houses with rounded roofs and other abandoned houses that seem to have melted from years of rainstorms line the roadway. There is no wheat in the nearby wheat fields.

As the convoy curved around a large dirt hill, it entered an emptiness that typifies the southern Afghanistan countryside. Or southern Iraq. Or, for that matter, the countryside of the many lands in which American troops operate.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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