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War Wife Weekly: Winter In The Hindu Kush

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Afghanistan. My soldier "The Hubs" is still there, part of a medical team that provides trauma care for the soldiers and locals. These Forward Surgical Teams work day and night under conditions that are hard for most to comprehend. Yet, the Internet has done much to provide a glimpse. In addition to email and the occasional chance to Skype, we have photos to drive their stories home in ways that mere words cannot.

Winter approaching in the Hindu Kush. Photo property of Kanani FongWinter has hit in the Hindu Kush. It's getting dark, wet, and cold. The region described in the classic travel book A Short Walk In The Hindu Kush by Eric Newby has been marked by wars, but this much is probably the same.

"…where the mountains seemed like the bones of the world breaking through, I had the sensation of emerging from a country that would continue to exist more or less unchanged whatever disasters overtook the rest of mankind."

Though the days are short, work is always at hand.

Children make up a large number of the patients who are seen in their clinic (held daily) for locals. Eighty percent are under the age of twelve. The children come in sick or wounded. They are war's smallest victims, getting sick from the elements or malnutrition, suffering from severe burns caused by cooking accidents, or needing trauma care for injuries caused by IEDs.

Father accompanies son to burn unit in an American FST. Photo property of Kanan FongHere, a young boy is rushed into the FST accompanied by a medical team and his father. The boy has suffered serious burns and will be initially treated here, then flown to a bigger air base with a hospital with more facilities. The father will stay with him throughout – in this case probably all winter and into the spring. The little boy and his father will not be sent home until the boy is ready.

God willing, he makes it. He will be like one of the children described in Chris Coppola's book, A Pediatric Surgeon In Iraq. Like Dr. Coppola, the team has fallen in love with several of their pediatric patients. Sure, it crosses all sorts of professional lines, but this is war. Father & son take off for hospital in Bagram. Photo property of Kanani FongWar crosses all sorts of lines as well. And medical teams are only human. No doubt, the medical teams will fall in love with this young burn patient, too. The boy, now stabilized, takes off with his father. God speed.

The children high in the Hindu Kush live very different lives from the cushioned ones western kids enjoy. They herd goats from the age of four, and most never go to school. They have very little. They often have no shoes. One thing that happens time and again: care packages arrive from all over the world, packed by total strangers (mainly bloggers) and family members. To wit: The Hubs and the 759th Forward Surgical Team were adopted by his 86-year-old Aunt Barbara and her friends from a small town in Charlevoix, Michigan. Over the course of a month, the friends cleaned out entire shelves of thrift shops and stores. His aunt and her friends made sure that shoes were sent with socks, pants or skirts sent with underwear. These amazing women sent 25 boxes filled with shoes, socks, underwear, clothes, and good, heavy jackets. Finally, after running out of storage space and having to sleep amid boxes in his small room, The Hubs issued a plea: "We have enough!" All of the articles of clothing were carefully cataloged, then given out by the chaplain and other team members directly to families in need. Many times, the children were patients in the pediatric burn unit or at the clinic.

Aghan Girl, Photo property of Kanani FongOftentimes, the first contact a young child has is from the caring hands of a health care professional from the West. Here's one little girl whom the team has taken care of since July. They've built a relationship with her.

"These tough little boys and girls suffer overwhelming physical hardships without a thought of pity or complaint. Even a small gift such as crayons and paper or a piece of candy brings a big smile of joyful surprise. They are attentive, intelligent, and polite. And sometimes very cute." — The Hubs, a surgeon in Afghanistan

That a little girl could be happy with new shoes, a bunch of plastic beads, crayons, and a coloring books makes one shudder when thinking about the excess of Black Friday. It's unfortunate that war's heaviest toll is on children. But the medical teams do their best to show them that the hands of a westerner can be both gentle and healing. One can only hope that these experiences stay with the kids as they grow older and begin the fragile process of building a new world. And one can only hope that we learn lessons from them, to take with us as we continue with this unfortunate circumstance called war.

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About Kanani

  • The problem with the media, when they cover the war, is that they do it from a partisan, political standpoint. Not from any type of experience or full comprehension of what is going on with all of its complexities and heartache. They fail to capture the realities and personalities of the soldiers who are not only risking their lives but doing other extraordinary things. And they rarely give us an honest insight into the faces, like these children in your article, that are affected both good and bad by what is going on.

    I liked it when they had the embeds; at least they had a much more honest perspective. Like David Bloom, who I really liked…God rest is soul!

    Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour get down in the trenches from time to time, and give it some justice.

    But then again, we have you K, and we can get a real sense of what is going on.

  • Well, I think most people are just too set in their ways to seek out the other side. I see it with both sides, actually.

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it!

  • Thanks for sharing this story with us. There are many people who need to hear the ACTUAL goings on and not just the sound bite from some TV station.

  • These are the kinds of stories we don’t see enough of in the mainstream media. Instead, we are constantly thrown into the mix of politics from either side. In the meanwhile, men and women from armed forces from many countries work quietly, with duty and honor and are rarely recognized. That’s why I post here. To help tear down the stereotypes of the military that those on the other side believe in and repeat, only because they prefer to live behind a curtain.

  • Quite the tear jerker, Kanani. The children are so innocent and it saddens me deeply that they have to go through so much. Godspeed to you, your husband, those children, and our soldiers.

  • Hi Ruvy, Yes, my husband has learned Pashto! Thank you for the thumbs up. I run a milblog called The Kitchen Dispatch. It’s one of many military “mil” blogs out there. We all center on a different aspect: some are political, some report on the day-to-day events happening during their deployment, and I try to mix in news from The Hubs, with yoga and literature –all with the intent of tossing some culture into the military blog mix.

    Still, one of the frustrating things is when I run across an article in the MSM, or a political blogger who is simply taking stuff off the MSM. I think military blogs are very important: if a person doesn’t read milblogs in addition to everything else, it’s hard to get a read on the war.

  • Ruvy


    If your husband is stationed in the Hindu Kush, the folk he is helping are most like Afridi Pashtun – or those who are there with the consent of the Afridi Pashtun.

    Your article is a remarkable one compared to another recent piece pretending to tell us about Afghanistan that appeared in the Politics section. Keep sending the truth, and we’ll hope the stupid stuff from others who don’t know gets ignored….