HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- U.S. Marines and sailors conducting counterinsurgency operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, conducted a Community Health Initiative in Kakar village, Mar. 1, 2011, and a second CHI in Aminollah Kariz village, Mar. 2.
Marines and sailors with Battalion Landing Team 3/8, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Regimental Combat Team 8, and Afghan Dr. Rahmat Gul from Gereshk Hospital working with a local national non-governmental organization examined and treated patients and distributed vitamins and medication to residents of Kakar and surrounding villages, Mar. 1. They repeated their efforts in Aminollah Kariz, Mar. 2.
"The goal here is to establish relationships between the local communities and local docs," said Navy LT Kurt Eifling, battalion surgeon for BLT 3/8. "These relationships make a huge difference to get follow-on care to the people who need it, a series of visits that will be more meaningful."
In Kakar, Marines and sailors began setting up the health initiative, including private examination booths, a pharmacy table and waiting area, early in the morning at a patrol base previously established by BLT 3/8's Company I. They simultaneously conducted a patrol through Kakar, distributing vitamins and inviting villagers to come to the initiative, asking them to spread news of the event by word of mouth to outlying villages.
"The people see we're here to help them out," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Marco Mendoza, a corpsman with BLT 3/8’s Headquarters and Service Company. "We're medical. That's our nature. Helping people is our job. If someone needs vitamins, if the kids have infections, if a woman needs pre-natals we can give them to her husband. It's a good feeling helping out. For me it's awesome. I love my job."
Eifling said 40 adult males and 10 children came to initiative in Kakar and he expects more the next time as word spreads. Part of BLT 3/8's counterinsurgency strategy is to show local Afghans the benefits of supporting the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan instead of the Taliban insurgency. Improvement to basic healthcare is one example of a development project the government could foster here which the insurgency neither could nor would.
"Because the Taliban is there day and night, the people are crushed by the Taliban," said Rahmat Gul. "The Taliban do not allow them to come for medical treatment. If they come, the Taliban would be there to crush them ... These people are sick and poor. They don't have the money to come themselves. They want to come for treatment, but are afraid of the Taliban."
"In the future it will be better," said Rahmat Gul.
BLT 3/8's mission is to establish and maintain security in portions of Helmand province not previously permanently occupied by the International Security Assistance Force. The security the Marines provide is intended to neutralize insurgent networks and support development projects, allowing the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to foster socio-economic development in the area.