Must-read stories for any journalist … and American

In Afghanistan, commentary, family, journalism, Kentucky, narrative, photography, storytelling, war on August 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I just finished part two of The Virginian-Pilot’s five-day series on the NATO hospital at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.

Wow. Just … wow.

I rarely cry when I read news stories or even fiction, and this has me tearing up. Writer Corinne Reilly brings the reader into the hospital — which gets some of the worst casualties in Afghanistan — into some of the most heart-wrenching moments a human can endure.

And then the photos, by Ross Taylor, really bring it all to life.

Both aspects are beyond superb and show the power and importance that journalism when done well can have.

Here’s how Reilly begins part one:

The doctors can hear the wailing before their patient is even in sight.

A second later, a flight medic bursts through the trauma department doors. His face is serious. He’s short of breath. Outside, corpsmen rush to unload a soldier from a military ambulance that carried him here from a Black Hawk. Two dozen doctors, nurses and surgeons have been awaiting their arrival.

“Who am I talking to?” the medic shouts.

“Here!” blurts Lt. Cmdr. Ron Bolen, the head of the hospital’s trauma department. He points to the Navy doctor leading the team that will examine the soldier first.

“OK, you’ve got tourniquets on both legs,” the medic gulps. “The right one is totally gone to at least the knee. He lost a lot of blood.”

The doctor hurriedly inquires about vital signs, fluids administered in the field, and the weapon that caused the explosion that did all this.

The next question would usually be whether the patient is conscious, but this time no one has to ask.

Outside, the wailing is getting louder.

It’s a Sunday morning. The soldier is being wheeled inside. Ashen and shaking, he asks Bolen if this is the day he’s going to die.

“Don’t lie to me,” he pleads.

Bolen looks the soldier hard in the eyes. “You’re not going to die,” he says calmly. “And I don’t lie.”

Someone counts to three and the soldier is lifted in one fluid motion from the stretcher to a trauma bed. Seven people are working on him now, ripping away dirty clothes, starting IVs to replace lost blood and calling out vital signs.

“Temp is 97.9!”

“BP is 135 over 65!”

“Pulse is 117!”

A doctor cuts the tourniquet off the leg that’s still intact and runs his finger down the sole of the pale foot. “Can you feel this?”

A few minutes later the soldier is in the operating room. He’s writhing now more than shaking. Through the moans, he’s mumbling three words over and over.

“This is bad. This is bad. This is bad.”

He keeps lifting his head, trying to get a look.

On the end of the bed, the last right boot he ever put on is lying at an angle that’s all wrong, a sweaty foot still inside. The calf above it is a shredded mess of uniform, flesh, dirt and grass. Nothing about it looks real.

Above that there is no discernible knee, just a thin stretch of filthy skin barely hanging onto what’s left of a thigh, which looks a lot like the mangled calf, except for one thing: Among the blood and mud, there is a little white inchworm, scrunching and straightening, slowly making its way across a bit of dying muscle.

Somehow it survived an explosion the soldier may not.

Around him, a dozen people are preparing for surgery. The room smells like damp earth, rubbing alcohol and blood.

“Hang in there one more minute, bud,” the anesthesiologist says, trying uselessly to soothe his patient. “Everything’s gonna be OK in just a minute.”

A nurse walks in. Next to the boot, she sets down a medical form.

It says the soldier’s name is Eddie Ward.

It says he is 19 years old.

This is just one of several scenes profiled in the stories. Day two’s story includes a scene after this soldier is operated on that I feel is even more powerful than the passages detailing his surgery, but I’ll let you read that yourself.

Bringing this story home for me even more is the fact that Ward, the soldier who becomes the narrative thread through the stories, is based at Fort Campbell, Ky.


And my younger brother, Dustin, is currently in Afghanistan. He’s a Marine, due home in about a month.

Throughout his current tour and the one he completed in 2009, I’ve tried to deny that he is in any of the situations the soldiers in the Pilot’s stories find themselves in.

I know it’s foolish, but it’s all I can do. And this story makes my ability to do that even harder.

But this is the type of story that everyone needs to read to understand the ramifications that our decisions and our lawmakers’ decisions hold. I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t be in Afghanistan, but those choices shouldn’t be made lightly.

The consequences are catastrophic for thousands of soldiers and their families, along with families in Afghanistan.

I’m cautiously eager to read tomorrow’s installment in the Pilot’s series. I know it will only bring more tears and difficult images to think of, but it’s a story that’s worth it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: