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Numbers never again

Kandahar | Day 8 – Right now, I’m listening to my Top 100 Billboard Hits of 2008 playlist while typing and occasionally looking around at all of the smiling faces surrounding me. People are relaxed and enjoying some downtime.

But I can’t, it just doesn’t seem fair.

I can’t get the experience of meeting Lance Corporal Edward Swingle, a U.S. Marine wounded in action, out of my head. I don’t want to. It’s a rather strange conundrum of emotions I’m feeling right now because I really love music, so while my foot wants to tap a bit, I feel really ashamed at the same time thinking of this young man and his family and how worried they all must be for him.

I am so honored for having met him. He’s such a young man, a true hero and Marine. He was the first wounded I have ever met and while the experience will be burned in my mind, I’m not sure if I would ever want to repeat it. Meeting him was very hard for me. Before I walked in, I kept thinking about how I’m just some reporter, and how I really didn’t want him to think I was trying to use him to make some story. I wanted to respect everything about the situation.

I won’t go into the details of how he was hurt; I’ll leave that for Ken’s vlog so Edward can tell you himself.

After meeting him, I could only think back to the beginning of my deployment, I helped out on the Joint Operations Center floor, which is the command and control center for all of Afghanistan. It’s an amazing place and they have five massive screens lining one wall. On the center screen, casualties and deaths are listed by country. Every day, I looked at that board and most of the time there were some numbers. There were great days though, when there weren’t any numbers.

The world and I have something in common, everyone sees these numbers, whether it’s on the JOC floor or in the newspaper. Numbers do life no justice. I met a “number” today, and I was ashamed for the period of my life I associated a number to the 20-year-old Edwards out there.

Behind Edward’s  story, there’s a whole support structure of people there helping to write it. They are the medical world of the international militaries. There are six or seven countries working together here to save lives of not only military members, but to Afghans and even insurgents. Someone told me today, they don’t see politics here, they just see life and death.

They walked Ken and I through the facility that has seen countless wounded. I couldn’t even imagine how many must pass through these tents. It’s a “Role 3” medical facility, which means they are a pretty big one, including medical technologies such as CAT scanners, but people generally don’t recover there, they move on to other facilities for that.

We walked the same route today wounded do. They get pulled off the helicopter and taken straight into the trauma center. I have some pictures posted of these areas in the photo section, Day 8. This is where the triage takes place. They also have the operating room. After the wounded are in stable condition, they’re taken to a holding tent, which is where we met Edward, before being loaded on an aircraft for transport to larger facilities.

We were lucky today because the hospital was relatively empty. There were a few Afghans being fixed up and a couple soldiers in the back, but they were nowhere near capacity.

Talking with the Dutch and English doctors was great. The Dutch talked about how peaceful their home country is, and they don’t really have a chance to practice this kind of triage there.  The English mentioned how great it was for them to be down here able to take care of their soldiers.

One, from the United Kingdom, wasn’t even in the military. She was a civilian here. She said she loved her soldiers so much she wanted to come and help them.

While walking the hallways of the combat hospitals, you could tell there was a lot of death there, a lot of suffering and pain. Trauma centers, intensive care centers, operating rooms are all places of life and death. They aren’t fun places, but they are places where good people save lives, and I was privileged to spend some time with them today.


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