Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

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...

The Dangers of Dietary Supplements

Video
7/11/2022
The Dangers of Dietary Supplements

Did you know that 75% of service members use at least 1 dietary supplement? Experts from the Uniformed Services University discuss the risks and safety concerns of dietary supplements. Learn more about dietary supplements at www.OPSS.org and The Consortium of Health & Military Performance (CHAMP).

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Health Readiness & Combat Support

What is Performance Nutrition

Video
7/11/2022
What is Performance Nutrition

Learn more about Performance Nutrition and healthy eating habits at the Consortium for Health & Military Performance. https://champ.usuhs.edu/. For more information about the Dietician Approved Fueling stations at your local commissary, go to https://www.commissaries.com/fueling_stations

Recommended Content:

Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Nutritional Fitness

Performance Nutrition: The Best Ways to Eat

Video
7/11/2022
Performance Nutrition: The Best Ways to Eat

USU professor and nutrition specialist, Jonathan Scott PhD, gives advice on eating healthy. Learn more about the Dietician Approved Fueling stations at your local commissary here: https://www.commissaries.com/fueling_stations

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Nutritional Fitness

MHS Minute May 2021

Video
5/28/2021
MHS Minute May 2021

In this month's MHS Minute, the DHA's commitment to transforming military health continues. The DHA officially established the Tidewater market in SE Virginia, serving over 200,000 patients. The MHS is standing up 19 markets like Tidewater to allow healthcare providers to better meet the needs of their patients by improving coordination between facilities in the area.

Recommended Content:

Military Health System Transformation | Electronic Health Record: MHS GENESIS | Health Readiness & Combat Support | MHS GENESIS

Moments in Military Medicine: Blood Donations on the Battlefield

Video
2/4/2020
Moments in Military Medicine: Blood Donations on the Battlefield

Since January was National Blood Donor Month, learn more about the history of blood donations on the battlefield and the incredible work of the Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP).

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Armed Services Blood Program | Our History | National Museum of Health and Medicine

MHS Minute September 2018

Video
9/21/2018
MHS Minute September 2018

Interested in hearing about some exciting events that took place around the Military Health System last month? Tune in to the MHS Minute to learn more!

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Patriot Warrior 2017 - Moulage

Video
10/5/2017
Patriot Warrior 2017 - Moulage

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rose Jane Schoenwandt, 349th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California, and Staff Sgt. Caleb Boles, 445th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, discuss the importance of moulage during Patriot Warrior.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

USNS Mercy: Deployable Medical Center

Video
4/11/2017
USNS Mercy: Deployable Medical Center

U.S. Navy Sailors and Military Sealift Command civilian mariners explain the mission of the USNS Mercy and its capabilities.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Health Care Administration & Operations

Trauma Innovations

Video
3/23/2017
Trauma Innovations

Hemorrhage is responsible for 91.5 percent of potentially survivable battlefield deaths. From 2001 to 2011, an estimated 24 percent of combat deaths occurred before patients reached a treatment facility; the major cause of death was blood loss. Battlefield trauma innovations like the occlusion balloon catheter and freeze-dried plasma will enhance the Joint Forces' current capabilities.

Recommended Content:

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

Air Force Nurse Key Asset to Army Medevac

Video
3/22/2017
Air Force Nurse Key Asset to Army Medevac

U.S. Air Force Maj. Sandra Nestor, tactical critical care evacuation team nurse, is assigned to the 3rd Platoon, C Company, 2-149 General Support Aviation Battalion Medevac. Medevac teams specialize in moving and treating U.S. and coalition forces who are injured and risk dying without immediate emergency care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Ophthalmology Medical Readiness Training Exercise

Video
3/7/2017
Ophthalmology Medical Readiness Training Exercise

The Ophthalmology Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) team is comprised of 26 U.S. military personnel and several host nation physicians who have partnered together to train medical teams in preparation for deployment. During the MEDRETE, the teams are able to improve the eyesight of more than 250 Panamanian patients during the two-week training exercise. The goal is to provide medical care that benefits the people of Panama, while building relationships with the accompanying Panamanian medical professionals.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support |

Any clime and place: Sailors bring hospital knowledge to the field

Video
5/19/2016
Any clime and place: Sailors bring hospital knowledge to the field

Sailors with 2nd Medical Battalion got out of their comfort zone and conducted a week-long training exercise known as a Health Service Augmentation Program at Camp Lejeune, N.C., April 18-22, 2016.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Racing to save lives at Steel Knight

Video
12/28/2015
Racing to save lives at Steel Knight

Corpsmen and Marines rehearsed life-saving skills during Exercise Steel Knight’s mass casualty drill, Dec. 12, 2015. Steel Knight provides tough, realistic training for the Marines and sailors of 1st Marine Division.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support
Showing results 1 - 13 Page 1 of 1
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 20, 2022

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.