There’s a new Afghanistan war plan. Last fall, NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal rolled out more restrictive rules of engagement, heralding a “population-centric” approach to the war. U.S. President Barack Obama announced more U.S. troops. While U.S.-led forces in eastern Afghanistan doubled their efforts to prop up faltering local governance, troops in the south identified Taliban strongholds in Marjah and Kandahar and went on the offensive. “Has the U.S. broken the Taliban’s momentum?” reporter Nathan Hodge asked. Maybe. But there are new risks, too: the Dutch might pull out of a key southern province, and Afghan national leadership remains weak. The war might be going our way, for once, but it’s far from over. David Axe and Greg Scott head to “The ‘Stan” to see for themselves.
by DAVID AXE
The job’s never easy. But it does get easier. That’s what 25-year-old Staff Sergeant Ryan Phillips told me as we shared a pair of rear-facing jumpseats in the cargo hold of an Alabama Air National Guard KC-135R tanker bound from Ramstein, Germany, to Bagram, Afghanistan on March 7. Phillips is an aeromedical evacuation technician. He and his teammates transport injured troops from Afghanistan to hospitals in Europe and the U.S.
On this day, they had brought along 12 stretchers, stacked three high in four columns bolted to the tanker’s floor. At high altitude, the 1962-vintage tanker gets cold, real cold, so in addition to monitors, bandages and defibrillators, the medical techs also brought plenty of blankets. They would pick up their patients at Bagram in the dead of night and head right back to Germany.
In this job Phillips has seen amputees, burns and other serious injuries. But he said his previous job helped prepare him. Before becoming an aeromedical tech, he worked in the Intensive Care Unit at Balad, Iraq.
The Pentagon spares no expense caring for its wounded warriors. Three weeks ago Phillip’s team was called on to transport a patient with lung injuries. That meant bringing along a special pulmonary team and critical-care specialists in addition to the regular evacuation techs. In one famous case, the Air Force spent $17 million transporting a single patient. In this case, the cost was much lower. Not that it mattered.