Afghanistan Combat Medic

Medics and soldiers, including an augmentee from the British Army, in action, Khowst City, 12 May 2009. The casualty is an Afghan civilian wounded by the insurgent attackers.

Everytime Restrepo shows on TV, my blog post titled Red Beard gets a lot of hits.  The film features an Afghan village elder with a hideously dyed scarlet beard.  The image sends viewers to the Internet seeking information about this practice, which is very common among older Afghans.

The second most popular search terms bringing readers to my site are “Afghanistan combat medic.”  I don’t know why, since until now I didn’t have a post by that name.  But let me make amends.

All the Camp Clark medics were heroes in my book, but two stood out.  Neither of them were Army.

Petty Officer First Class Garcia was a Navy corpsman.  He was famous among us for spending rotation after rotation at Spera Combat Outpost.  Never at Camp Clark for more than a few days at a time, PO1 Garcia was like the character Bulkington in Melville’s Moby-Dick, who returns to sea within days after arriving at port after a four-years’ journey.  Melville writes of Bulkington’s “intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea.” That’s a mouthful, but it might help explain PO1 Garcia’s willingness to forgo “the best post in Afghanistan” for Spera COP’s hardships and dangers.

In any case, PO1 Garcia spent so little time at Clark that he became something of a man of mystery.  Some said he had been with the Marines during the initial invasion of Iraq.  Others said he was a veteran of the hard fighting in Fallujah.  When I finally met him, I noted how he combined extreme competence with a sunny, happy-go-lucky, nothing-bothers-me attitude.  Perfect, actually–just the kind of guy you’d want to spend weeks on end with on a seriously dangerous mountaintop on the Pakistan border.

The other medic was Staff Sergeant Farris, of the US Air Force.  SSG Farris, like the other Air Force personnel at Clark, was governed by a protocol established before Khowst became the hostile place it was when I arrived.  The Air Force was willing to provide personnel to Operation Enduring Freedom, but only if their duties did not bring them directly into enemy contact.

That plan went to hell on 12 May 2009, when insurgents attacked a number of federal buildings in downtown Khowst city.  I was on a routine mission that day, along with SSG Farris, but once the battle began we raced to the sounds of the guns.  There, we joined US Special Forces, regular US Army units, and other Afghan army units already in action.  SSG Farris was the senior medic present.

In the day-long battle that ensued, US Special Forces and the ANA launched multiple assaults upon a five story building occupied by the insurgents.  Each assault was accompanied by a roar of small arms fire, punctuated by the explosions of US bunker buster missiles and grenades dropped out of windows and down stairwells by the insurgents.

As the battle unfolded, I watched SSG Farris and the other medics treat a dozen or more US and Afghan casualties.  It was an impressive and interesting experience.  For example, the first-aid for a sucking chest wound is to tape a piece of cellophane over the entry wound.  Untreated, the victim’s lungs lose pressure, the same as a football might when punctured.  I had always figured that such a wound would be debilitating, but one such casualty treated by SSG Farris stood up and climbed unassisted into the back of a pickup truck for further evacuation.  His cellophane bandage heaved with the swell of his breathing, but otherwise he seemed unaffected.

And so it went throughout the afternoon.  At the end of the day, eleven insurgents were dead, while no US or Afghan forces were killed-in-action. After the battle, I submitted SSG Farris for an ARCOM with a V for Valor device.  It didn’t seem like too much to ask. I soon left the unit, though, and so too did the higher echelon chain-of-command responsible for approving the award.  Honestly, I don’t know what happened; maybe the award came through eventually.  I doubt it, but maybe.  I hope.

Things like this happened all the time in Afghanistan.  If nothing else, let this post be SSG Farris’s tribute.

SSG Farris, center of frame, Khowst City, 12 May 2009.

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5 Responses to “Afghanistan Combat Medic”

  1. War Photography: Ed Drew’s Wild Blue Yonder | Time Now Says:

    […] But on the new-age circular battlefield, anything could happen anytime to anyone.  I’ve written elsewhere about an Air Force medic, who while on a routine supply run, found himself in a battle patching up […]

  2. Suzanne Dudley Farris Says:

    My son, SSG Samuel David Farris (just in case you never knew his full name), found this the other day and passed it on through Facebook. He has never told us what he went through in that battle. He didn’t receive the commendation for this but he did receive others. Thank you so much for this tribute to him, it has been passed on to friends and family.

  3. Peter Molin Says:

    Ms. Farris, thank you for writing. I hope my report of the battle made you proud and didn’t scare you too much–Staff Sergeant Farris was such a hero that day! Special Forces, regular Army, advisors, and the ANA all fought like tigers, and thanks to our great medics, we suffered no KIA. In the picture at the top of my post are SSG Farris; a regular Army medic whose name I unfortunately don’t remember; Hugh Owens, a British Army augmentee to our unit, and Hedayet Hetatullah, our interpreter. Owens has since retired and moved to the USA, and Hedayet has emigrated to the US and joined our Army. In my mind that speaks volumes about the spirit of our unit and the men and women who served in it. Give my best please to Staff Sergeant Farris and I hope all is well with everyone in your family.

  4. Suzanne Farris Says:

    I came back to find this to post on FaceBook as a Veteran’s Day tribute to our son and just saw your response. I passed it on to him, he’s now retired from the military. It was a little scary but yes, it made us very proud! We have a hard copy displayed on our bookshelf. thanks again!

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