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...

Multiservice medical providers, medics take on dive injuries, treatments

Article Around MHS
5/31/2022
Military personnel in pool for training

A group of medical providers and medics recently spent two weeks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Dive Center here learning how to treat patients who may have suffered a dive injury.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Warrior Care

Air Force Surgeon General eyes modernizing capabilities for joint commanders (Part 2)

Article Around MHS
5/27/2022
Military medical personnel at Patrick AFB

Since assuming his role of Air Force Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Robert Miller has worked to advance the Air Force Medical Service’s capabilities, ensuring it is ready for an evolving joint fight.

Recommended Content:

Medical Logistics | Defense Medical Readiness Training Institute | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness

39 MDG beta tests AFMS first blended TCCC and Medic-X curriculum

Article Around MHS
5/20/2022
Military medical personnel performing safety exercise

The Air Force Medical Service tasked the 39th Medical Group to test the service’s first blended curriculum, enhancing the readiness and skills of medical personnel, Soldiers, and NATO allies at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, April 20-24, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Expeditionary Medical Integration Course: Unified in keeping Marines in the fight

Article Around MHS
5/12/2022
Military personnel in medical training

I Marine Expeditionary Force's Expeditionary Operations Training Group on Camp Pendleton developed the Expeditionary Medical Integration Course to prepare Marines and line corpsmen for future deployments.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Navy Hospital Ship Departs for Pacific Partnership 2022

Article Around MHS
5/9/2022
Navy Hospital Ship Departs

Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) departed San Diego, May 3, marking the beginning of Pacific Partnership 2022 (PP22).

Recommended Content:

Readiness Capabilities | Health Readiness & Combat Support

“Buddy! Buddy! Are You Okay?” A Look Into The Marine Corps' Livesaver Course

Article Around MHS
4/19/2022
Combat Lifesaver Course practical

The Combat Lifesaver Course is a three-day course that teaches Marines lifesaving medical techniques to eliminate preventable loss of life on the battlefield.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Niger, U.S. doctors treat 550 patients in Ouallam

Article Around MHS
4/15/2022
Military training

 Nigerien and U.S. doctors alongside U.S. joint service medical specialists established a temporary field clinic to provide medical treatment to citizens of Ouallam and the surrounding areas as a part of a medical civic action program (MEDCAP) in Ouallam, Niger, March 16, 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Practice makes perfect: Uniformed Services University students learn combat casualty care

Article Around MHS
10/22/2021
An instructor gives advice on how a team of medical school students at the Uniformed Services University should work on their simulated patient during the Advanced Combat Medical Experience. 

The Advanced Combat Medical Experience (ACME), a four-day medical field practicum at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), is intense

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

Expeditionary Medical Force Brings Optimal Readiness in Pacific Region

Article Around MHS
10/18/2021
A male soldier talks about a chart to to a female sailor.

The 121st Field Hospital of the 549th Hospital Center recently introduced an innovative way to increase medical Soldiers’ proficiency and competency by enhancing access to the field hospital equipment.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Health Promotion duo optimizes health on Incirlik Air Base

Article Around MHS
9/30/2021
Air Force Capt. Sydney Sloan, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion element chief (right), and Air Force Senior Airman Gloriann Manapsal, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion technician (left), promote making healthy choices at the Sultan’s Inn Dining Facility on Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The 39th Operation Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion team provides and integrates evidence-based programs to optimize the health and readiness, even during these unprecedented times.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Total Force Fitness | Coronavirus & the MHS Response
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 31 - 40 Page 3 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