Propellers whir in a desert outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, taking off and landing to transport Afghan soldiers to and from the battlefields of the almost 16-year war against the Taliban.
Waisuddin, 22, who, like many Afghans, goes by one name, serves as a medic when he’s not fighting on the front lines. From under the sleeve of his Afghan army uniform, a long burn scar stretches toward his wrist.
“There was a mine blast a year ago,” he says. “Two of our soldiers were injured badly. Then I saw my own arm — it had been burnt, but not too badly. So I helped the others first and then took care of myself.”
Waisuddin, who enlisted at 17 — a year younger than the age required by a law that often goes ignored — carries his M5 bag of first-aid supplies wherever he goes, staving off suffering and death while awaiting transport for the wounded.
He says when there is too much fighting, he and his team have to wait for the injured to be evacuated. Up until the drawdown of international troops in 2014, the United States provided medevac support to the Afghan forces. Now, strained by ceaseless casualties, the Afghan army must survive mostly on its own.
Recently, Waisuddin remembers, “A young soldier had been shot in the eye by the Taliban. The bullet was still inside, and he was conscious.” He gave him fluids and an injection to stop the pain and then brought him to a clinic. But he does not know the man’s ultimate fate. When the injured are evacuated, Waisuddin returns to the field.
“It’s all in God’s hands,” he says.
Oropharyngeal airway — If the injured soldier cannot breathe, this tube is put inside the throat to help provide oxygen. It keeps the airway open. This is for situations when a person is unconscious.
Suture kit — This is for someone who has a wound that requires stitches. It has all the items for sewing wounds. It is needed quite often, whenever there are injuries.
IV set — If someone is dehydrated or losing a lot of blood we give them this solution to keep them hydrated. It contains water, glucose, different kinds of salts, and so on. I sometimes use the solution to clean wounds as well.
Arm sling / triangular bandage — This is used to hold a broken arm in place or when someone has a head wound; it can be a bandage to wrap around the head. Every soldier carries one of these — even the cooks.
Chest seal — When someone has a bullet wound in the chest, this covers the wound so air will not get inside and cause a lung to collapse. This is also needed for deep shrapnel wounds in the chest.
Tourniquet — This is the most important item in my bag. When there is heavy bleeding due to a bullet or shrapnel wound, or a mine blast has cut someone’s leg off, this needs to be applied.
Medical kit — This contains the essentials for treating wounds in the field. There are bandages, iodine for cleaning wounds, an oropharyngeal airway, and adhesive bandages.
Cervical collar — It has only happened three or four times that I have needed to use this. It is meant for situations when someone has broken their neck. The collar is tied around the neck to support it.
Bag valve mask — When someone is not able to breathe — or breathe properly — I have to put this mask on their face and start squeezing the bag to give them air.
Scissors — Usually the injury is underneath the uniform. I cut the clothes off with the scissors. They also have another function: to remove extra tissue from limbs that are severed in mine blasts before they are bandaged.