Skip to main content

Military Health System

Final Days in Afghanistan: Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal

Image of Final Days in Afghanistan Lab Techs Stepped Up to Support Withdrawal. David Grant Medical Group Air Force lab techs deployed to Afghanistan in 2021 to support Operation Allies Refuge.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

It was a hot summer afternoon last year in Kabul, Afghanistan, when Air Force Master Sgt. Grace Hodge, lab services section chief at David Grant Air Force Medical Center, in Fairfield, California, heeded an emergency call for all hands on deck.

Hodge had deployed to Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul, in April, as the lab team’s noncommissioned officer in charge. She and her team were providing COVID-19 and trauma support while also closing down the medical treatment facility at Bagram to support the final withdrawal of U.S. forces.

As the events in Afghanistan grew increasingly chaotic, Hodge forward deployed in June to a hospital at the international airport outside Kabul.

There, she and her colleagues continued to process COVID-19 tests, blood work, and other routine lab tests as U.S. forces continued the troop drawdown and provided airlift support during the final days of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

Hodge also led the Blood Product Distribution Center for American efforts in Kabul, working directly with the U.S. Central Command’s Blood Transshipment Center in Qatar to provide whole blood products to treat wounded patients and service members.

ISIS Bomb Attack

On the afternoon of Aug. 26, 2021, Hodge was one of only two lab techs working alternate 24-hour shifts.

“I think I was the one on duty at that time,” she recalled.

The situation at the airport grew chaotic as the Taliban took over the area and thousands of Afghans, in their desperation to flee the Taliban, flocked to the airport to make it onto an outbound flight before the Aug. 31 deadline for the U.S. troop departure.

Confusion and chaos turned into horror as a suicide bomber attacked the crowds, setting off an explosion that killed more than 150 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

The attack forced troops to adapt their drawdown plans and respond to the mass casualty.

“Prior to the attack, teams were preparing to leave the area,” Hodge said. “Suddenly, everything changed, and our main goal shifted from COVID-19 support to blood supply and triage.”

She remembers the sound of pagers as everyone received the emergency alert.

“When patients arrived, it didn’t matter who you were,” said Hodge. “We helped anyone who needed it.”

Hodge, along with a team of lab workers from several other NATO countries, supported the trauma cases however they could, even providing toiletries, clothes, snacks, and other supplies the United Service Organizations had sent for the deployed troops.

“We were able to help a lot of people,” she said. “And I'm glad we were there when that happened because if we hadn’t been there, a lot more people would have died.”

A lab tech’s job during a mass casualty incident involves managing traumas, “making sure we have whole blood for the patients that need it, and taking blood samples for testing,” Hodge explained.

Much like the way her team did at Bagram Air Base, they “had to pick and choose” who stayed behind in Afghanistan and what capabilities remained operational.

“Some troops left earlier than us and some troops were retained [including Special Forces] in case anything else happened,” she said.

After the bomb attack, Hodge’s team still had to shut down the hospital at the airport in Kabul.

“We needed to complete the retrograde,” Hodge said, explaining the process that involves destroying patient records and other sensitive documents for safety as part of the evacuation.

Once the hospital was shut down, she boarded an aircraft out of Kabul with two important lessons. Lesson one: “Don’t take for granted what freedoms we have — always remember those service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice to have the freedoms we have.” Lesson two: “Always take training seriously because at any given time your role can change and fill that role to the best of your ability whether you are part of a security or triage team.”

Adrenaline Dump

Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Washington, a lab tech from Hodge’s team from Travis Air Force Base, deployed with Hodge to Afghanistan. 

“We were doing a lot of COVID-19 testing for different NATO countries,” he recalled. “We were processing so many people from so many different countries, fulfilling individual COVID testing requirements so [people] could safely fly back home to their country.” 

Leaving Bagram Air Base behind in June, the team continued their collaboration from different locations. Washington deployed to the U.S. military’s Blood Transshipment Center in Qatar, while Hodge headed to Kabul.

“When the blast occurred, a supervisor woke me up and told me to get to work — so I got to work,” Washington said. 

“Over the next couple of days, we shipped about 256 units [of blood products] into Kabul through various means because the resources were cut off and a lot of the flights were grounded.”

He said they needed to get “real creative with the ways to get blood there” including piggy-backing pallets of blood products on “flights with special operations teams that went in on much smaller planes.”

Troops at the airport in Kabul were in need, he said, and the emergency resulted in the troops assisting anyone who needed it. 

“The blood was going directly to the laboratory in Kabul whether it was for civilians, other services, other countries’ militaries … whoever needed the blood and was being treated as a trauma casualty at that time received the blood,” Washington said.

He recalled his experience in Afghanistan as unique because although he works in a large hospital, it’s not a trauma center. 

“I’m a blood bank specialist,” he said. “I know blood. I know how to give blood. I know who needs blood."

He acknowledged his training that prepared him for emergencies like this one. 

“Doing that was a very eye-opening experience,” he said. “It's really an adrenaline dump like nothing else. You find out exactly who everybody is in that moment.”

“It really makes you see the value of what you do firsthand, and I feel like that is something that I will not forget.”

You also may be interested in...

Edgewood Arsenal Chemical Agent Exposure Studies

Report
5/8/2015

Edgewood Arsenal has been the center of chemical warfare research and development since 1918. Therefore, it is not surprising that Edgewood Arsenal became the research hub for chemical agent testing on human subjects from 1955 through 1975. The great majority of the use of volunteers in medical (chemical) research occurred at this installation.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Environmental Exposures | Environmental Exposures | Cold War

Human Subject Research at Fort Detrick

Report
5/8/2015

The U.S. Army established its offensive Biological Warfare program at Fort Detrick in 1943. The purpose of the program was twofold: develop defensive mechanisms against biological attack and develop weapons with which the United States could respond “in kind” if attacked by an enemy who used biological weapons.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Environmental Exposures | Environmental Exposures | Cold War

Mustard Disaster at Bari

Report
5/8/2015

Bari lies along the Adriatic Sea at the top of the heel of the boot of Italy (See Figure 1). During World War II, the port of Bari was under the jurisdiction of the British and was the main supply base for General Montgomery’s Eighth Army as well as the headquarters for the American Fifteenth Air Force which was activated in November 1943.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Environmental Exposures | Environmental Exposures | Cold War

Field Testing of Hallucinogenic Agents

Report
5/8/2015

Hallucinogenic agents (principally LSD) were tested on human subjects primarily at Edgewood Arsenal. The aim of this experimentation was to determine the effects of these chemicals on the nervous systems and mental functions of individuals and to evaluate preventive and therapeutic (treatment) agents to combat these effects.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Environmental Exposures | Environmental Exposures | Cold War

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 11 - November 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Rates of acute respiratory illnesses of infectious and allergic etiologies after permanent changes of duty assignments, active component, U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, January 2005–September 2015; Completeness and timeliness of reporting of notifiable medical conditions, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2008–2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 10 - October 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Chikungunya infection in DoD healthcare beneficiaries following the 2013 introduction of the virus into the Western Hemisphere, 1 January 2014 to 28 February 2015; Update: Cold weather injuries, active and reserve components, U.S. Armed Forces, July 2010-June 2015; Surveillance snapshot: Influenza immunization among U.S. Armed Forces healthcare workers, August 2010-April 2015.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 12 - December 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Follow-up analysis of the incidence of acute respiratory infections among enlisted service members during their first year of military service before and after the 2011 resumption of adenovirus vaccination of basic trainees; Diagnoses of low back pain, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2010–2014; Brief report: Incidence of diagnoses using ICD-9 codes specifying chronic pain (not neoplasm related) in the primary diagnostic position, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2007–2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 1 - January 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: malaria, U.S. Armed Forces, 2014; Influenza A(H3N2) outbreak at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, 2014; Incidence of Salmonella infections among service members of the active and reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces and among other beneficiaries of the Military Health System, 2000-2013.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 5 - May 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Incidence of joint replacement among active component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2004-2014; Case series: Chikungunya and dengue at a forward operating location; Tdap vaccination coverage during pregnancy, active component service women, 2006-2014; Surveillance snapshot: Influenza vaccination coverage during pregnancy, active component service women, October 2009-April 2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 8 - August 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Routine screening for antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus, civilian applicants for U.S. military service and U.S. Armed Forces, active and reserve components, January 2010-June 2015; Durations of military service after diagnoses of HIV-1 infections among active component members of the U.S. Armed Forces, 1990-2013; Case report: Probable murine typhus at Joint Base San Antonio, TX; Morbidity burdens attributable to various illnesses and injuries in deployed (per Theater Medical Data Store [TMDS]) active and reserve component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2008-2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 6 - June 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Update: Accidental drownings, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2005-2014; Risk of mental health disorders following an initial diagnosis of postpartum depression, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 1998-2010; Urinary tract infections in active component U.S. Armed Forces women before and after routine screening Pap examination; Diarrheal and respiratory illness surveillance during US-RP Balikatan 2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 2 - February 2015 (Supplement)

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 2 - February 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Whither the "signature wounds of the war" after the war: estimates of incidence rates and proportions of TBI and PTSD diagnoses attributable to background risk, enhanced ascertainment, and active war zone service, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2003-2014; Surveillance snapshot: responses to the traumatic brain injury (TBI) screening questions on the 2012 version of the Post-Deployment Health Assessment (DD Form 2796); Measles and mumps among service members and other beneficiaries of the U.S. Military Health System, January 2007-December 2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 7 - July 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Epidemiology, microbiology, and antibiotic susceptibility patterns of skin and soft tissue infections, Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland, Texas, 2012-2014; Post-deployment screening and referral for risky alcohol use and subsequent alcohol-related and injury diagnoses, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2008-2014; Incidence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2005-2014; Surveillance snapshot: Prevalence of antibodies to viral causes of vaccine-preventable illnesses by state home of record among Air Force recruits, 25 April 2013 - 24 April 2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health

MSMR Vol. 22 No. 3 - March 2015

Report
1/1/2015

A monthly publication of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. This issue of the peer-reviewed journal contains the following articles: Characterizing the relationship between tick bites and Lyme disease in active component U.S. Armed Forces in the eastern United States; Incidence and prevalence of diagnoses of eye disorders of refraction and accommodation, active component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2000-2014; Update: heat injuries, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2014; Surveillance snapshot: the geographic distribution of heat injuries among active component service members, U.S. Armed Forces, 2010-2014; Update: exertional rhabdomyolysis, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2010-2014; Update: exertional hyponatremia, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 1999-2014.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Public Health
<< < ... 6 7 8 9 10  ... > >> 
Showing results 136 - 150 Page 10 of 24
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 20, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery