FOB NOLAY, Afghanistan -- A small team of sailors has been tasked with empowering Afghans to stand on their own as coalition forces draw down and transition full security responsibility in the Sangin Valley.
The sailors, Lt. j.g. James M. Nicholson, Petty Officer 1st Class David Morales and Petty Officer 3rd Class Kristopher Krysa, all with Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 2-215, are continuing to build rapport and trust with the Afghan medics to ensure a positive working relationship is maintained. Through this strong relationship, they are able to gain the trust and confidence of the medics.
“Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care,” said Nicholson, the 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, Afghan National Army medical advisor with SFAAT 2-215, who often congratulates the Afghan medics on a job well done with a handshake and hug after successfully treating a patient. “One of the things we do is provide them with the continued support and recognition of what they do on a day-to-day basis.”
The relationship between these two teams did not start out this smooth.
“When we first got here, we didn’t know what to expect,” said Morales, the 41-year-old senior enlisted medical advisor for SFAAT 2-215, from El Paso, Texas. “They were testing their boundaries on the things they could do with us and how they were going to react with us. After we opened up to them and gave them our friendship, they gave us their friendship in return, and we just gelled together.”
The team of sailors arrived during the fall of 2013 and have been building the working relationship ever since.
“With the Afghans, you start off with a handshake when you first get here,” said Krysa, medical advisor for SFAAT 2-215, from La Grange Park, Ill. “Your hopes are that you work up to where you hug them and build that friendship. A hug is friendship. It means they’re right there beside you. It means a lot in their culture to get to that level. It makes me feel safer too, knowing they like me and want me around.”
Once the relationship was established, the next step for the team was to advise and prepare them to provide self-sustaining medical care. After several months of training and advising the Afghans, the sailors feel the medics are not only capable, but confident in their own abilities.
“When we first got here, they would come down and call us for every emergency they had, even minor lacerations. They would call me for everything,” said Morales. “We’ve mentored them so well, to this point the only thing they call us for now is category ‘A’ patients, is life, limb or eyesight. They take care of the others all themselves and do their own evacuations, so I’ve seen them grow a lot.”
One of the strategies the team leans on the most is allowing the Afghans to come up with their own solutions. The sailors have found that by allowing the Afghans to adapt and overcome on their own they are becoming more independent, to a point that no amount of training and advising could achieve.
“The ANA tend to be incredibly resourceful,” said Nicholson, 33, from St. Petersburg, Fla. “A lot of times when we don’t interfere and allow them to come up with their own solutions, they do. For example, they didn’t have heat, so instead of complaining about heat, they created a heated space with a wood-burning stove. So every time we allow them to come up with Afghan solutions, they’re long-term and sustainable, and every time they do an excellent job.”
With the “no-interference” stance, the team makes judgments on when to help and how much help to give, depending on if it is really needed. For instance the Afghan medics only had two good tables for emergency care, but often received multiple casualties. With limited resources, they could not build their own table. Nicholson and his team arranged for two tables to be built and delivered to them to help solve the issue. The team has given them limited supplies, such as blankets, to help keep their patients comfortable.
“They need this kind of stuff,” said Morales. “We gave them those blankets so they can use them for their patients so they won’t be cold, especially if we have to do any kind of evacuations.”
The team continues to visit the ANA medics daily to offer advice and friendship and is determined to ensure they are ready for fully independent medical care as the coalition forces leave the area.
“There’s an old saying: ‘He who sheds blood with me is forever my brother,’ and I think we’ve shed a lot of blood with these guys,” said Morales. “I’m real impressed from the day we got here to where they’re at today. It’s like 100 percent better.”