Skip to main content

Military Health System

Final Days in Afghanistan: Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

Image of Final Days in Afghanistan Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal. David Grant Medical Group Air Force lab techs deployed to Afghanistan in 2021 to support Operation Allies Refuge.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

It was a hot summer afternoon last year in Kabul, Afghanistan, when Air Force Master Sgt. Grace Hodge, lab services section chief at David Grant Air Force Medical Center, in Fairfield, California, heeded an emergency call for all hands on deck.

Hodge had deployed to Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul, in April, as the lab team’s noncommissioned officer in charge. She and her team were providing COVID-19 and trauma support while also closing down the medical treatment facility at Bagram to support the final withdrawal of U.S. forces.

As the events in Afghanistan grew increasingly chaotic, Hodge forward deployed in June to a hospital at the international airport outside Kabul.

There, she and her colleagues continued to process COVID-19 tests, blood work, and other routine lab tests as U.S. forces continued the troop drawdown and provided airlift support during the final days of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

Hodge also led the Blood Product Distribution Center for American efforts in Kabul, working directly with the U.S. Central Command’s Blood Transshipment Center in Qatar to provide whole blood products to treat wounded patients and service members.

ISIS Bomb Attack

On the afternoon of Aug. 26, 2021, Hodge was one of only two lab techs working alternate 24-hour shifts.

“I think I was the one on duty at that time,” she recalled.

The situation at the airport grew chaotic as the Taliban took over the area and thousands of Afghans, in their desperation to flee the Taliban, flocked to the airport to make it onto an outbound flight before the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. troop departure.

Confusion and chaos turned into horror as a suicide bomber attacked the crowds, setting off an explosion that killed more than 150 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

The attack forced troops to adapt their drawdown plans and respond to the mass casualty.

“Prior to the attack, teams were preparing to leave the area,” Hodge said. “Suddenly, everything changed, and our main goal shifted from COVID-19 support to blood supply and triage.”

She remembers the sound of pagers as everyone received the emergency alert.

“When patients arrived, it didn’t matter who you were,” said Hodge. “We helped anyone who needed it.”

Hodge, along with a team of lab workers from several other NATO countries, supported the trauma cases however they could, even providing toiletries, clothes, snacks, and other supplies the United Service Organizations had sent for the deployed troops.

“We were able to help a lot of people,” she said. “And I'm glad we were there when that happened because if we hadn’t been there, a lot more people would have died.”

A lab tech’s job during a mass casualty incident involves managing traumas, “making sure we have whole blood for the patients that need it, and taking blood samples for testing,” Hodge explained.

Much like the way her team did at Bagram Air Base, they “had to pick and choose” who stayed behind in Afghanistan and what capabilities remained operational.

“Some troops left earlier than us and some troops were retained [including Special Forces] in case anything else happened,” she said.

After the bomb attack, Hodge’s team still had to shut down the hospital at the airport in Kabul.

“We needed to complete the retrograde,” Hodge said, explaining the process that involves destroying patient records and other sensitive documents for safety as part of the evacuation.

Once the hospital was shut down, she boarded an aircraft out of Kabul with two important lessons. Lesson one: “Don’t take for granted what freedoms we have — always remember those service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice to have the freedoms we have.” Lesson two: “Always take training seriously because at any given time your role can change and fill that role to the best of your ability whether you are part of a security or triage team.”

Adrenaline Dump

Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Washington, a lab tech from Hodge’s team from Travis Air Force Base, deployed with Hodge to Afghanistan. 

“We were doing a lot of COVID-19 testing for different NATO countries,” he recalled. “We were processing so many people from so many different countries, fulfilling individual COVID testing requirements so [people] could safely fly back home to their country.” 

Leaving Bagram Air Base behind in June, the team continued their collaboration from different locations. Washington deployed to the U.S. military’s Blood Transshipment Center in Qatar, while Hodge headed to Kabul.

“When the blast occurred, a supervisor woke me up and told me to get to work — so I got to work,” Washington said. 

“Over the next couple of days, we shipped about 256 units [of blood products] into Kabul through various means because the resources were cut off and a lot of the flights were grounded.”

He said they needed to get “real creative with the ways to get blood there” including piggy-backing pallets of blood products on “flights with special operations teams that went in on much smaller planes.”

Troops at the airport in Kabul were in need, he said, and the emergency resulted in the troops assisting anyone who needed it. 

“The blood was going directly to the laboratory in Kabul whether it was for civilians, other services, other countries’ militaries … whoever needed the blood and was being treated as a trauma casualty at that time received the blood,” Washington said.

He recalled his experience in Afghanistan as unique because although he works in a large hospital, it’s not a trauma center. 

“I’m a blood bank specialist,” he said. “I know blood. I know how to give blood. I know who needs blood."

He acknowledged his training that prepared him for emergencies like this one. 

“Doing that was a very eye-opening experience,” he said. “It's really an adrenaline dump like nothing else. You find out exactly who everybody is in that moment.”

“It really makes you see the value of what you do firsthand, and I feel like that is something that I will not forget.”

You also may be interested in...

Fort Hunter Liggett First in Army to Receive Prehospital Whole Blood Transfusion Capability

Article Around MHS
7/14/2022
Military medical personnel standing by EMS vehicle

Army Garrison Fort Hunter Liggett’s remoteness, and the robust efforts of Fire Captain Devon Haggie allowed the installation to be the first in the Army and Department of Defense to receive the life-saving capability to transfuse whole blood by its Emergency Medical Service (EMS).

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support | French Freeze-Dried Plasma Use in the DOD

Medical readiness exercise provides real world humanitarian relief to local Moroccan population

Article Around MHS
7/11/2022
Medical readiness exercise provides real-world humanitarian relief to local Moroccan population

The Utah Army National Guard Medical Detachment, the U.S. Army 30th Medical Brigade, and the Royal Moroccan Army collaborated to provide real-world humanitarian assistance to the local population here while simultaneously conducting medical readiness training during African Lion 2022.

Recommended Content:

Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief | Health Readiness & Combat Support

137th SOMDG Medical Personnel Conduct SPP Visit to Azerbaijan

Article Around MHS
7/8/2022
Military medical personnel conducting simulation

Members of the Air Force's 137th Special Operations Medical Group (SOMDG) traveled to Azerbaijan to conduct a combat casualty care knowledge exchange with Azerbaijan Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) Battalion doctors and medical noncommissioned officers during a State Partnership Program (SPP) visit to Baku, Azerbaijan in late June.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Wagging tails and smiling faces: Therapy dogs bring comfort to Medical Center staff

Article Around MHS
7/6/2022
Military personnel with support dog

Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune staff are receiving comfort and support from four-legged friends. For the past several months, Beasley the Basset Hound, has been making her rounds in her Red Cross volunteer vest, providing treats for humans in the form of pets and cuddles.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Psychological Fitness

Operational Readiness Training A Littoral Away for NMRTC Bremerton Corpsmen

Article Around MHS
7/5/2022
Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Don Wilwayco

NMRTC Bremerton has formed a unique partnership to help ensure there’s a ready medical force capable of supporting fleet mission – and medical - readiness.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Task Force Med Soldiers compete in Crusader Challenge during Kosovo deployment

Article Around MHS
7/1/2022
Military medical personnel in rescue drill

Army Soldiers with the 547th Medical Company (Area Support), 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 62nd Medical Brigade, participate in Crusader Challenge 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Provider Soldiers Learn Mental Health First Aid

Article Around MHS
6/30/2022
Military personnel in classroom

Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and members of the unit Soldier and Family Readiness Group, participated in the Mental Health First Aid training in Hinesville, Georgia

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Beating the Stigma: Workhorse Battalion and H2F Team Up to Improve Physical Readiness

Article Around MHS
6/24/2022
Military personnel bench pressing

To help counter that stigma of being "broken", the 10th Division Sustainment Troops Battalion “Workhorse,” 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, and the brigade’s Holistic Health and Fitness team, also known as H2F, joined forces to create the Unbreakable Warrior program, also known as UBW.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Physical Fitness

Four-legged Major Brings Joy to Brooke Army Medical Center

Article Around MHS
6/23/2022
Labrador facility dogs at ceremony

Brooke Army Medical Center commissioned a new, four-legged staff member with a penchant for spreading joy to the rank of United States Army major during a ceremony June 6.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

Army, Navy Public Health Officials Collect Weapon System-related Health Hazard Data in Support of Blast Overpressure Exposure Assessment

Article Around MHS
6/21/2022
Military personnel by M777 Howitzer

A team of scientists and engineers from the U.S. Army Public Health Center and the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center recently traveled to Fort Carson to conduct a Joint Service Member Occupational Health Assessment, also known as a JSOHA, of the M777 Howitzer—a weapon that is routinely used in military training and combat operations.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support

LRMC CNS Fuels Progression in Military Medicine

Article Around MHS
6/17/2022
military personnel in neonatal care class

Army Maj. Rebeccah Dindinger serves as a Clinical Nurse Specialists at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Women's Health

Medical Readiness Training Exercise strengthens local partnerships and skills

Article Around MHS
6/13/2022
Military personnel working together during a global health engagement

As part of the U.S. Southern Command’s enduring partnership to Central America, Joint Task Force-Bravo executed a three-day Global Health Engagement in Comayagua, Honduras, June 1-3, working side by side with local military and Ministry of Health personnel.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Expectant Moms Have Group Option for Prenatal Care

Article Around MHS
6/10/2022
Midwife helps expectant military mom during pregnancy

The San Antonio Market offers a group obstetric model for pregnant women at Brooke Army Medical Center.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Women's Health

DGMC Trains Medics on TCCC, Boost Readiness for Next Battle

Article Around MHS
6/9/2022
Military medical personnel in classroom

Medics at David Grant USAF Medical Center on Travis Air Force Base, California, are being trained monthly during a week-long course on tactical combat casualty care in an Air Force-wide initiative to standardize medical readiness training for all service members.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Medical Readiness Key to Lead-Wing Deployment

Article Around MHS
6/2/2022
2rd OMRS medical insignia patch

Air Combat Command has tasked the 23rd Wing to be Lead-Wing ready in October of 2022 and medically preparing Airmen for a Lead-Wing deployment is no small feat.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 16 - 30 Page 2 of 3
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 20, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery