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How the Military Medical Forces Supported Afghanistan Evacuation

Image of A U.S. Marine carries a baby as the family processes through the Evacuation Control Center during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 28. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla). A U.S. Marine carries a baby as the family processes through the Evacuation Control Center during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 28. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla)

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As the U.S. evacuated thousands of service members and allies from Afghanistan in August 2021, military medical forces played a vital role in both providing urgent medical care for those fleeing the country as well as supporting the mental health of Afghanistan war veterans back home who were affected by how the war ended. 

During the evacuation operations, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, provided primary, preventive, and emergency care to approximately 35,000 Afghan evacuees. This included more than 20 U.S. service members and civilians who were medevacked to LRMC following the Aug. 26 Kabul attack that killed 13 American troops and hundreds of Afghan civilians. 

“We have to always think like a trauma center because that’s our core mission as the gateway home for America’s wounded, and our allies,” said Army Col. (Dr.) Jean-Claude D’Alleyrand, the director of surgical services and an orthopedic trauma surgeon at LRMC. “We have to take world class care of those patients – that’s our culture.” 

D’Alleyrand oversees the surgical capabilities of the Level II trauma center, which cared for many patients among the Afghan evacuees. 

“Any hospital with that kind of rapid influx of patients with little to no warning would have supply issues and a need for additional equipment,” said D’Alleyrand. “Our hospital had to come up with creative ways to fix those problems.” 

In addition to the supply, logistical, and security challenges many hospitals face during evacuations, D’Alleyrand explained there was an additional layer of complexity from cultural differences that medical teams needed to respect.

“We had many patients with different cultures, different dietary restrictions, and levels of nutrition. We worked hard to accommodate those differences.”

“I’m incredibly proud of what we accomplished to help the evacuees,” said D’Alleyrand, reflecting on MHS involvement in evacuation efforts. “We couldn’t have done that without everyone chipping in. It was incredibly moving as an American, and a human being, just seeing everyone at every level committed 100 percent to helping these people.”

Many service members and veterans found the rapid U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan disturbing, particularly some of the images of Afghan allies trying to flee the country.

This experience brought up memories and feelings that can be stressful, painful, and difficult. The Military Health System made mental health resources readily available to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to help them process these feelings, said Capt. Meghan Corso, chief of Behavioral Health Clinical Operations within the Defense Health Agency.

“[We] recognized that the events leading up to and following the Afghanistan withdrawal may cause mixed emotions for our service members, past and present, and their families,” said Corso, who is a U.S. Public Health Service officer.

“We encouraged leaders and frontline supervisors to check in with their subordinates and validate any emotions they were experiencing in reaction to the events, and to offer mental health care if needed.”

The Military Health System reached out to the military community to highlight the range of mental health resources available to service members, veterans and survivors to help them process their thoughts and feelings surrounding the events in Afghanistan. “The Department focused on communicating existing resources that were immediately available to our people,” Corso explained.

Part of the goal was to create a safe and supportive place for members of the community to share their experiences and emotions.

“Just listening carefully and standing with others can be powerful,” said Corso. “This cornerstone of connection is important not just in a clinical setting but as members of a larger team.”

 

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