As I sit here getting more and more intoxicated, I find myself looking at old files on my computer to see if I can’t delete anything unnecessary. I started with my catch-all “untitled folder” and I stumbled upon an .pages file entiled “08 Jan 2009 Mass Cas Statement.” This file was the statement I was asked to write and submit by my commanding officer after a mass casualty event took place near the forward operating base I was stationed at in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2009. I hadn’t read it in about three years and it was sobering in a way that I needed after all so much libations on a school night.
I’m ready to share it, but I will qualify it by saying that if the text seems unemotional it is a reflection of the lack of emotion I felt during the event itself.
On 8 January 2009 I, Cpl. (My Name), (My Service Number) was witness to and was involved in a mass casualty incident occurring in and around FOB Hutal in the Maywand district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan. The following is my recollection of the events as they occurred.
At approximately 16:30 I had finished working out and was exiting the gym when a large explosion was heard. Unsure of whether or not it was a controlled demolition, I observed for a few seconds until it became apparent that it was not in fact a controlled explosion. This was indicated by American soldiers running to their vehicles and donning their FFO. Lt. John Southen and I ran back from the gym and donned our FFO and made our way to the wall at the rear of our compound to defend the FOB. The lieutenant instructed me to start the RG-31 and man the machine-gun. A few minutes later the gun was ready and I was scanning my arcs. It was at this point that the ANP started bringing in casualties from the village surrounding the FOB. It quickly became apparent that there were more casualties than the on-site medics could adequately provide care for. That being the case, MCpl. Ric Chiu and I were tasked to assist the American medics, being that both us are TCCC qualified. It was approximately 16:50 when we began assisting the medics.
The first casualty I assisted after donning my gloves was a local national. Three Americans were trying to stop his bleeding while also removing his clothing. Having shears, I helped remove his clothing and then upon instruction from an American medic applied Quickclot to the back of the casualty’s left leg just above the heel where there was a large amount of flesh and bone missing. I handed off the Quickclot to one of the American medics who needed it at the top of the of the casualty’s body. Then I was asked if I had a tourniquet. When I pulled one out I was instructed to place it on the casualty’s right leg as he had blood loss below the knee. However another caregiver had already placed a tourniquet on the leg and had begun to tighten it so I ceased my application. That casualty being adequately cared for I moved on to see who else needed assistance. I moved around between casualties for a few minutes providing equipment to the first-aid givers as they needed it and then running back to the Canadian compound to retrieve more stretchers as they were needed.
I assisted the caregivers of one casualty (Afghan) who had burns as well as lacerations and was evidently in a great deal of pain. I held his legs in place while they were bandaged where bleeding and also helped to remove his clothing. When he was bandaged I covered him with a blanket and moved on to then next casualty. Many of the initial casualties were at this point ready to be put on the chopper when it arrived but we were running out of blankets to cover them with so I applied my solar blanket to one casualty who was nearly naked and shivering. At about this time Lt. Southen came to the scene and asked how he could help so I asked if he could scrounge some blankets. He managed to find several and none of the treated casualties were, to my recollection, left uncovered after that point.
I am not sure at what times each individual casualty load came in but I do remember checking my watch at 17:03 after I heard over our PRR’s that choppers had taken off from Camp Bastion at 17:01. But several more casualties did show up prior to that chopper’s arrival and a many of them were children. The first one I remember treating was a child I helped off of the ANP truck. The child was quite conscious and told the interpreter that he was injured on his left thigh. We laid him on a stretcher and I began removing his clothing. I saw a puncture wound on the front of his thigh which, although deep, was not squirting blood so I began to assess other parts of his body to look for other injuries. The child started protesting in Pashtun and the interpreter translated that the child was trying to say that that was the only place he was injured. The child seemed quite lucid and alert so I proceeded to bandage up his wound using an Israeli dressing over a standard field dressing. I was assisted in this by two Americans; one held the leg as I bandaged it and the other retrieved the first aid equipment I needed. When the casualty’s leg was bandaged I attempted to look for other bleeding but the casualty assured me in Pashtun that he was fine and gave me the thumbs-up. Again, in light of his wakefulness and alertness I judged he was fine and moved on to others whom I judged could use more help. A lot of the help provided consisted of providing occupied caregivers equipment and assistance as needed but I began to notice things were getting cluttered with bodies strewn about haphazardly. So I got Lt. Southen, MCpl. Chiu and an interpreter who was nearby and us four moved stable casualties to a position where they were out of the way and well-covered. As well, I noticed there were treated casualties lying on the ground scant feet from unoccupied stretchers so I got some of the interpreters to help me by explaining to the casualties how we were going to manoeuvre them onto the stretchers. This was done by turning the casualties onto their sides, placing the stretchers behind them and rolling the casualties onto them.
As the choppers began to show up I told the interpreters to tell the casualties we were going to cover their heads so they would not get pelted by rocks when the Chinooks landed. As the choppers landed I assisted in bearing the stretchers. For my part, I helped carry three casualties over. Earlier on however, we had received word that another load of casualties, primarily women and children was on its way into the FOB. We were waiting for them to arrive for a time but it became clear that they weren’t about to show up.
After the casualty-laden Chinooks left, two blackhawks landed and I noticed that the Americans had formed into two facing columns. I realized this was probably their final salute to their comrades who had perished that day so MCpl. Chiu and I stood at attention with the Americans as the deceased were loaded onto the Blackhawks.
After that procession MCpl. Chiu, Cpl. Yull, Cpl. Begin and I offered to help the medics clean up. However, not long after that MCpl. Chiu and I were called back to the Canadian compound by Lt. Southen to defend the wall. I relieved Cpl. Czop and was stationed at the wall for only about ten minutes before we were stood down. We were stood down at approximately 18:50.
The American medics were quite vocal in their gratitude for the Canadian assistance in treating the casualties.
That’s the sort of 0-to-100 moment which is characteristic of my experiences overseas. Shit is pretty chill until its not. Now did I have the most extreme and traumatic of experiences? No, and thankfully not. Still, my commander saw fit to submit my statement and MCpl Chiu’s statement to higher along with his own observations. The practical outcome of this initiative on my commander’s part was that MCpl Chiu and I were awarded “Chief of Defence Staff Commendations.” In spite of my misgivings about war, it was/is an honour to have been recognized for life-saving efforts. Nevertheless, I am humbled by the fact that there are those who have been pushed farther than I was and received no recognition at all.
Again, in spite of any misgivings I may have regarding modern warfare and the reasons it is fought, I am awed by the stories of unrecognized valour which I have heard. May these stories keep being told, even if it only among the forces.