CAMP SHORABAK, HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - When U.S. Navy Petty Officer Stanley Maculewicz visits Camp Shorabak to advise the Afghan National Army 215th Corps Mobile Strike Force Kandak medics, he is usually welcomed with hugs and handshakes from his counterparts.
Shortly after arriving to the Afghan camp, June 11, his boss, Maj. Brian J. O’Shea, the MSF Security Force Assistance Advisor Team officer in charge, called his name and told him an ANA soldier was looking for him. He stopped what he was doing. He took a few steps and stopped in his tracks when he saw the soldier.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Maculewicz, as he stared at ANA Staff Sgt. Abdul Malik.
The two didn’t say a word. No handshakes – they just hugged for a while.
Maculewicz was thrilled, to say the least. Just two weeks before, he performed life-saving steps on Malik and called in an air medical evacuation during Operation Aoqad Se Hasht (38 Eagle) in Sangin.
The operation was an ANSF-led response to a Taliban attack on Afghan Local Police and Afghan Uniformed Police patrol bases.
During the first week of the operation, which saw some of the heaviest fighting, Malik and another MSF medic were recovering a fallen soldier. Malik loaded the soldier into an ambulance and was about to open the driver’s door when a bullet punched through his back, below his right kidney and exited from the right side of his abdomen.
Around the time Malik was responding to the casualty call, Maculewicz was at the casualty collection point at Patrol Base Tobaq, from which the MSF ANA medics were operating. Unaware of Malik’s situation, he heard the call about a soldier killed in action. Minutes later, he heard another call come in about a soldier who was wounded.
“I initially thought there was some confusion in the communication, because I just had heard there was a KIA,” said Maculewicz, “so, I thought it was just a wounded soldier. Either way, I was getting ready for what was coming my way. I was making sure my ANA medic was prepared as well, should we take a casualty.”
Then the ambulance pulled up.
Quickly getting in the mindset
Maculewicz said his biggest fear was that if the time ever came to save someone’s life, he would freeze.
Compared to his previous duty station at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he worked in the Traumatic Brain Injury Ward, the life-saving acts he performed on Malik “were night and day.”
At Walter Reed, the Washington Township, N.J., native worked in shifts and had set schedules. He had a routine – and time to think things through.
Now, Maculewicz is on his first combat deployment and it is his first time serving with a Marine Corps unit. He is also the only corpsman on the MSF SFAAT. His workload is a complete 180 from his time in Bethesda. There is no set schedule or routine. He learned that from Field Medical Training Battalion at Camp Johnson, N.C.
“When I was at FMTB, where you learn how to be a combat corpsman before joining a [Marine Corps] unit, they put you in situations like I was with Malik,” he said. “But, when you’re in a training environment, the person still lives. It’s just training. “But the instructors always told us, ‘once you’re in that moment, it will automatically click in your head’,” he added.
The ambulance arrived, and Maculewicz’s training kicked in.
“I opened the door and blood came pouring out” as the ANA medics pulled the KIA out of the vehicle, said Maculewicz. “I helped pull the wounded soldier out and didn’t even realize who it was. I began working on him immediately.”
He said “a million things” ran through his mind. He was looking for wounds to Malik’s chest, arms, abdomen and leg.
“Each part of the body requires different treatments,” he said. “Even if it’s a gunshot wound in the arm or the leg, each will require different measures.”
Once he located the injury, he began stabilizing Malik. He treated Malik’s back and rolled him over to treat the exit wound. He looked at the interpreter and told him to reassure his patient everything was going to be ok. Then he glanced at his face—and realized who it was.
Without a pause, he applied a chest seal on the wound.
At that moment, Maculewicz said irony had struck.
“The day before the operation began, I was training the medics about keeping a patient breathing should they have an open wound between their chest and hips,” said Maculewicz. “Malik was my go-to medic so I applied a chest seal on him [to demonstrate for the class]. Now, I was doing it to save his life.”
He couldn’t tell if there was any internal damage, but he didn’t want that to go unnoticed. He knew Malik would have to be medically evacuated by helicopter.
While treating Malik, he reassured him everything would be fine, while relaying information to a Marine who was calling in the request for air medical evacuation.
“It was a lot of pressure that day because in addition to all I had to do to get Malik out of there, there were also more than 20 ANA soldiers watching me,” he said.
The helicopter arrived shortly after Malik was stabilized. He was loaded up on the ambulance, driven to the landing zone and Maculewicz said what he thought were the final goodbyes.
“I thought I wasn’t going to see him after that,” said Maculewicz. “I mean, I was confident he was going to be fine, but I just didn’t think he would be back at the unit.”
Wanting to give thanks Malik didn’t remember much from the time he was shot to the time he arrived at the patrol base, but he did remember watching Maculewicz working on him – and knowing would be fine because “Doc is a great teacher.”
He spent two days at the Camp Bastion Role 3 hospital and one week at Camp Shorabak’s clinic.
While recovering, he awaits orders for convalescent leave to go back to Kabul to see his family and newborn son – but wanted to see Maculewicz first.
The two spent more than an hour catching up, talking about the injury and the fighting in Sangin.
“He saved my life,” said Malik. “I can’t repay him for what he did for me, but I am going to get back to my job and keep fighting the Taliban. I will be back and be there for my soldiers’ medical needs, just like Doc was there for me.”
Maculewicz was surprised to see Malik walking, talking and laughing “as if nothing happened.”
Malik plans to spend his leave telling his friends and family about his experience, but “most importantly, I am going to tell everyone about my friend, Doc, who is the reason why I’m here today. It is my hope the people I tell spread the word about the Americans and their good intentions in Afghanistan.
“We call our fallen soldiers, heroes,” Malik went on to say, “but Doc is my hero too.” Every time Maculewicz conducted training, he said Malik always volunteered first. “He took the training to heart and he was an example to his medics,” Maculewicz said. “We have become close during this deployment.”
Maculewicz considers Malik a friend and said when he saw him lying wounded at PB Tobaq, it hit him “harder because it would have been like treating a Marine I’ve known on this deployment.”
He said he’s no hero; rather, he merely did what he signed up to do.
“My mom tells me she’s going to slap me upside the head because she keeps telling me I’m too modest,” he laughed. “I guess I know what’s coming when I come home.”