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There I was...: A combat medic who saw a share of combat

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sarah Woods
  • 6th Medical Operations Squadron
There I was, on an eye-opening deployment. I thought as an Air Force medic I'd be working at a theater hospital. I found out it would not be the case for this deployment.

Before leaving the states, I attended three months of training to prepare myself for combat operations and convoys. I landed in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, during the end of May 2012. A week later, I was on my first mission.

Our mission was to provide security to the Afghan National Army trucks carrying supplies to different forward operating bases across the command. I was a joint expeditionary tasked Airman attached to the U.S. Army 10th Sustainment Brigade and 1st Sustainment Brigade. I also traveled with different transportation units in the area. We completed more than 10 missions with more than 300 hours on the road by the end of my deployment.

As a JET airman, I was on a team of 11 Air Force medics attached to a team of 40 Army medics. Each time we went out on a convoy, one Air Force medic and one Army medic accompanied 40-60 people. This was my second deployment with the Army, so I knew how they operated and integrated quickly.

Though we came from different services, it truly was an honor to serve in the environment of a JET. Our convoys lasted anywhere from four to 30 days at a time, and because we had two casualties shortly after we arrived, we were constantly following route clearance packages. RCPs ensured there were not any other improvised explosive devices in the area that could take more lives.

Under these conditions, at times it could take six hours to advance 25 miles down the road. It was very long and uncomfortable to complete, but the precautions saved lives.

During my deployment, we discovered more than 15 IEDs before they could hurt us. The explosives had been hastily placed on the road ahead of us. It scared me to know we were driving by a blast hole that was made just hours prior.

While deployed, I witnessed first-hand how common people live in Afghanistan. It was humbling for me to see the way people live compared to Americans. I recall driving through a small village we called Rocket Propelled Grenade City. The heights of the roofs on the mud buildings were level with our gunners, making us easy targets. We realized we were in danger, so we did not stick around to see the RPG show.

Another memory I will always keep with me is my first firefight.

Our team was under attack, and one of the Afghan national trucks was blown up. Then the RPGs and small arms began to rain down. I remember looking out the window to see the ANA fire back at the enemy while I was handing my gunner her ammo. I distinctly remember thinking: "Okay, I guess this is why I went through so much training."

It was a thrilling and unbelievable event to go through as an Air Force medic. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be out on convoys, sleeping in motor pools and in trucks, literally doing our military duty of risking my life to save others.

Another incident took place when my truck was in a roll-over incident in the Hindu Kush Mountains. We were on what we called "switch backs," which are curvy roads going up and down mountains with no railings.

The unit I was attached to at the time was on its first mission. We ended up at a 45-degree angle dangling from the side of the mountain. I was holding on for dear life and thought to myself, "I'm going to die from rolling down a mountain."

Our team waited patiently until we were pulled up to safety.

To say the least, I experienced multiple events that would scare anyone. I have numerous memorable moments from my deployment. I am blessed that I made it through my missions with no causalities. Just as important, I know that I made a difference for the Soldiers and Airmen that I protected and cared for during my deployment.