MISSION TO AFGHANISTAN: ‘What’s up, doc?’
December 2, 2012
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK — Returning home will be no easy task for Bravo Company, 189th General Support Aviation Battalion of the Nevada Army National Guard.Capt. Mike Bordallo noted the differences in routines between deployed soldiers and their families back home.Currently, he said aviators and their flight crews settled down in a routine at Forward Operating Base Shank, while spouses and families have accelerated their daily pace.“Coming home from deployment is a challenge, and as leaders, we have to ensure everything is intertwined with the state support programs, the state and military leadership and the family readiness groups,” Bordallo said from his office at Forward Operating Base Shank.The Nevada Army National Guard captain said the goal is for the soldiers to assimilate into a normal home life, but the process should develop gradually.“When we go home, things will speed up,” Bordallo said. For the spouses and families, things will begin to slow down. All parties involved must be vigilant and understanding knowing that these soldiers have gone through significant events.”For the past several months, a military doctor has assisted Bravo Company’s soldiers. Bordallo said having Maj. R. Dale Jackson attached to the unit helped “put soldiers’ minds at ease.” Furthermore, Bordallo said Jackson’s experience as a Special Forces medic for 12 years benefitted both aviators and flight crews.When Jackson leaves Afghanistan, Nevada’s flight surgeon will replace him until the unit returns home.Jackson, who spent eight years on active duty with the Army and is now a member of the Michigan Army National Guard, now specializes in internal medicine and performs the role of a flight surgeon. He also gained additional combat experience when he deployed to Iraq.“My role here is unique,” Jackson explained. “Normally, we deploy into a brigade or battalion staff. NGB (National Guard Bureau) decided to assign flight surgeons to a particular company within a task force.”During his stay at Shank, Jackson was the only internal/emergency physician on base, and within Task Force Eagle Assault, he developed a relationship with the physician at the higher echelon. Jackson said after doctors deploy, they contact the other doctors at the base to discover each other’s strengths. For Jackson, having experience as an SF medic developed his combat mindset. He and other medical personnel at Shank, for example, must develop a response and mass casualty plan and help fine tune the process on a regular basis.Jackson, though, also compares his role to that of a hometown physician.“Whenever a doctor is attached to a unit, it is like an old-time family doctor. You know everybody, you eat with everybody, you get to know the patients and develop a relationship unique only to the military and National Guard,” Jackson said. “National Guard people are also a family. You arrive as a stranger and work yourself into the family. You need to gain their trust.”Jackson not only gained their trust but also laughed along with the gallows humor that accompanies soldiers to the war zone. Time after time, guardsmen welcome Jackson with a quirky “What’s up, doc?” when he enters the command post.Jackson does it all from treating injuries to respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Because of FOB Shank’s isolation, he also deals with soldiers suffering from combat stress to chronic fatigue problems.“When the soldier doesn’t rest or sleep well, other issues compound it,” he said.As for PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Jackson said the symptoms don’t necessarily show up until the soldier returns home.“Here (at Shank) it is acute stress … lack of sleep, poor concentration, obsessive worry about family back home,” he said. Jackson, who lives in the Detroit metropolitan area, tries to keep a pulse on every company soldier and has a goal of flying with every pilot and crew at least once a week.“To be an effective military physician, that true hometown doc needs to know pilots and crew. When you are around them enough, they forget I’m a major and all walls come down,” he added.By flying with the crews, Jackson said he can determine the stress level of each individual. Even when individuals have a problem at 3 a.m., Jackson said he will answer their calls and help them work through a problem.Jackson, who works for the Henry Ford Health Systems in Chesterville, Mich., said he plans to stay in the military for 30 years. As for his deployment to Afghanistan, Jackson said he developed a better appreciation of Bravo Company’s pilots and crew. For this Michigan doctor they have been his family.“Being with them helped me better appreciate the aircrews and what they do,” Jackson said.