Photo Information

U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Moccia (center left), a corpsman with 3rd Platoon, Company I, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, Regimental Combat Team 8, treats Afghan civilian Ghamay Ghilgi, brought to 3rd Platoon's patrol base in Kakar village, Helmand province, Afghanistan, March 7, 2011. Ghamay, a local farmer, was injured by an insurgency Improvised Explosive Device. The Marines and sailors see locals approaching them for help as a positive sign of eroding support for the insurgency. Elements of 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed to Afghanistan to provide regional security in Helmand province in support of the International Security Assistance Force.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Kevin Hassett

Corpsmen, Marines save lives, earn local support

8 Mar 2011 | Gunnery Sgt. Bryce Piper

U.S. Marines and sailors conducting counterinsurgency operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, medically evacuated an Afghan civilian from the village of Kakar, March 7, 2011.

This was the second civilian medical evacuation from the village in three days. Marine leaders consider local Afghans coming to them for aid as a major stride toward winning over the local population.

The victim, Ghamay Ghilgi, arrived at a patrol base in the village of Karkar in a van crowded with relatives and friends, according to Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Moccia, who first treated Ghamay.

Moccia is a corpsman with 3rd Platoon, Company I, Battalion Landing Team 3/8, Regimental Combat Team 8. As Moccia treated Ghamay's wounds, Marines and interpreters gathered from the family that Ghamay was the victim of an insurgent improvised explosive device.

Ghamay suffered wounds to his legs and feet, including lacerations and a broken femur. Moccia, assisted by fellow corpsmen Petty Officer 2nd Class Jermiah Helms and corpsmen Charles Cruce, treated Ghamay and determined he'd need medical evacuation to survive.

"He was bleeding profusely," said Moccia, "there was lots of blood on the blanket they had him wrapped in in the van. He was in shock. He had an open fracture, which could mean femoral artery damage. Originally he had no pulse in his wrist and only a faint one in his neck. He was out of it originally, unresponsive. We pushed IV fluid into him and got him talking while treating his wounds."

As Afghan interpreters struggled to explain to the family both what the corpsmen were doing and that Ghamay would need to be evacuated, squad leader Sgt. Eric Rasmussen and his Marines secured a nearby field to use as a landing zone. Ghamay was evacuated by International Security Assistance Force helicopter to Camp Bastion for treatment.

Only two days prior, Afghans from a nearby village brought a man for treatment who suffered from two gunshot wounds. While Marines on scene were unable to get a clear and full story of how the man was shot, corpsmen treated him without reservation and medically evacuated him to Camp Bastion as well.

The Marines and sailors see locals approaching them for help as a positive sign of eroding support for the insurgency. They most attribute the recent shift in local outlook to a community health initiative conducted in Kakar, March 1. During the CHI, Afghan Dr. Rahmat Gul from Gareshk Hospital, BLT 3/8 Surgeon Navy Lt. Kurt Eifling and corpsmen from BLT 3/8 examined and treated villagers while distributing vitamins and medications. They conducted a second CHI in Aminollah Kariz village, March 2.

"One of the big things that started the surge in seeking medical care was the CHI," Moccia said.

In addition to the health initiative, they've gone to great lengths to win trust and confidence in Kakar and surrounding villages.

Explosive ordnance disposal technicians attached to Company I's 3rd Platoon made Kakar safer for residents by clearing it of improvised explosive devices Feb. 14, including seven main charges, three pressure-plate devices and a command-pull device. Insurgents later returned to the village, planting several more IEDs, one of which injured a Marine attached to Company I. The Marines then established a patrol base in Kakar to maintain security.

"When we first got here it was supposed to be short term," explained Moccia. "But we cleared IEDs here and set up the [patrol base] and we did the medical day and followed up with them. We've been going down there and been level with them, and that has yielded benefits."

"Constantly checking on them and interacting with them has brought really positive benefits," agreed Rasmussen. Living in the village and interacting with residents on a daily basis allows the Marines to know who belongs and who is an outsider, he said. This knowledge helps the Marines keep insurgents attempting to hide among locals at bay. All of their efforts enable the Marines to increase security and win support among locals.

"We're constantly asking them, 'How can we help you?'" said Moccia. "I mean, we're neighbors with them. We tell them, 'We'll do what we can for you. If you need medical care, come to us.'"

Apparently it's working.

"Any day you can come here and the villagers tell us, 'Making your post here and living with us is a good thing,'" said Farhad, an interpreter with 3rd Platoon.

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.