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News | Oct. 1, 2021

Soldiers aid LRMC efforts amid OAW

By Marcy Sanchez

More than 50 Soldiers from across the U.S. are supporting operations at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, aiding in the ongoing mission to provide medical care to Afghan evacuees currently in Germany.

For over a month, Soldiers ranging in professions from interpreters to physicians, have augmented personnel at LRMC in support of operations at the hospital and across Germany, including Ramstein Air Base and Rhine Ordnance Barracks, which has housed up to 12,000 and 5,000 Afghan evacuees at a time, respectively. The mission, part of overall Army efforts supporting Operation Allies Welcome, in coordination with State Department and Homeland Security, is providing essential medical care during the reception, processing and transfer of Afghan evacuees to the U.S.

At Rhine Ordnance Barracks, also known as ROB, a few medical stations are set up amongst the military installation’s sprawling tent city, where medical professionals from various units are caring for and treating evacuees 24/7.

“I flew in on 26 August, so I've been supporting the mission at LRMC, Ramstein Air Base and Rhine Ordnance Barracks,” said U.S. Army Maj. Regina Velasco, an obstetrics nurse assigned to Bassett Army Community Hospital, Fort Wainwright, Alaska. “We’re making sure they're aware of health care services available and that they can feel safe coming to the medical tent when they need to.”

In addition to supporting medical efforts at ROB, Velasco has branched out to other sections in LRMC where extra hands are needed in response to the sudden increase in patients.

“The (Soldiers) were brought out (to Germany) to support whatever missions given to us. Some of us are supporting Medical / Surgical operations, labor and delivery and OB/GYN,” said Velasco, a native of O’ahu, Hawaii. “This has been a great opportunity to work with (Afghan evacuees) also being able to let them know we care about their wellbeing and letting them know they can trust us with their health.”

The sudden request for support of OAW also tested the U.S. Army Medical Force’s readiness and ability to respond to unexpected operations with little notice.

“There were only a few days to prepare to deploy and get everything in order,” said U.S. Army Capt. Daniel Braun, a Pensacola, Florida native and medical / surgical nurse assigned to Benning Martin Army Community Hospital, Fort Benning, Georgia. “It's been quite an awesome and rewarding experience getting to Germany, getting the opportunity to take care of these patients and to learn of their experiences has been a broadening experience.”

Additionally, support from across the Army has allowed LRMC to continue supporting the largest U.S. Military community outside the United States, particularly in high-demand medical specialties.

Specialized medical requirements are often overlooked during mass evacuation efforts like Afghanistan, says U.S. Army Capt. Iris Evans, a certified nurse midwife also assigned to Benning Martin Army Community Hospital at Fort Benning. The number one concern may be to get evacuees to a safe place.

The Chicago native, who has helped deliver two Afghan evacuee newborns, says female medical needs are plentiful, as most female Afghans aren’t used to getting the type of health care normalized by Western cultures.

Furthermore, having female providers, such as Evans, is culturally appropriate as it is normal for Afghan women to labor and deliver at home to avoid contact with male medical staff, which has led Afghanistan to have one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.

“They're not accustomed to males providing care to them other than their husbands,” said Evans. “Having a female provider, specifically a women’s health nurse practitioner or midwife, to provide that care is phenomenal.”

For other augmentees, the mission is described as both a homecoming and a calling.

“I’m fortunate enough to go back to the unit I worked at while stationed here,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Brittany Koppenhaver, a practical nursing specialist at Evans Army Community Hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado, who was previously assigned to LRMC’s Department of Women’s Health between 2016 and 2018. “The mission kind of almost fell in my lap when the Army needed a (practical nursing specialist) with maternal experience. I got out here soon after, boots hitting the ground running.

“Missions like these are why I joined the military, I'm not only helping protect and serve my own (compatriots), but others as well,” said the Fayetteville, North Carolina native. “To be in a position, in a situation, where I can provide service and care for Afghan evacuee families who do not have much or anything at all, it's an honor and I'm blessed and grateful to be part of those caring hands.”
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