Numbers never again
Written by Nathan Gallahan   
Monday, 15 February 2010 18:08

Kandahar | Day 8 – Right now, I’m listening to my Top 100 Billboard Hits of 2008 playlist while typing and occasionally looking around at all of the smiling faces surrounding me. People are relaxed and enjoying some downtime.

But I can’t, it just doesn’t seem fair.

I can’t get the experience of meeting Lance Corporal Edward Swingle, a U.S. Marine wounded in action, out of my head. I don’t want to. It’s a rather strange conundrum of emotions I’m feeling right now because I really love music, so while my foot wants to tap a bit, I feel really ashamed at the same time thinking of this young man and his family and how worried they all must be for him.

I am so honored for having met him. He’s

such a young man, a true hero and Marine. He was the first wounded I have ever met and while the experience will be burned in my mind, I’m not sure if I would ever want to repeat it. Meeting him was very hard for me. Before I walked in, I kept thinking about how I’m just some reporter, and how I really didn’t want him to think I was trying to use him to make some story. I wanted to respect everything about the situation.

I won’t go into the details of how he was hurt; I’ll leave that for Ken’s vlog so Edward can tell you himself.

After meeting him, I could only think back to the beginning of my deployment, I helped out on the Joint Operations Center floor, which is the command and control center for all of Afghanistan. It’s an amazing place and they have five massive screens lining one wall. On the center screen, casualties and deaths are listed by country. Every day, I looked at that board and most of the time there were some numbers. There were great days though, when there weren’t any numbers.

The world and I have something in common, everyone sees these numbers, whether it’s on the JOC floor or in the newspaper. Numbers do life no justice. I met a “number” today, and I was ashamed for the period of my life I associated a number to the 20-year-old Edwards out there.

Behind Edward’s  story, there’s a whole support structure of people there helping to write it. They are the medical world of the international militaries. There are six or seven countries working together here to save lives of n ot only military members, but to Afghans and even insurgents. Someone told me today, they don’t see politics here, they just see life and death.

They walked Ken and I through the facility that has seen countl ess wounded. I couldn’t even imagine how many must pass t hrough these tents. It’s a “Role 3” medical facility, which means they are a pretty big one, including medical technologies such as CAT scanners, but people generally don’t recover there, they move on to other facilities for that.

We walked the same route today wounded do. They get pulled off the helicopter and taken straight into the trauma center. I have some pictures posted of these areas in the photo section, Day 8. This is where the triage takes place. They also have the operating room. After the wounded are in stable condition, they’re taken to a holding tent, which is where we met Edward, before being loaded on an aircraft for transport to larger facilities.

We were lucky today because the hospital was relatively empty. There were a few Afghans being fixed up and a couple soldiers in the back, but they were nowhere near capacity.

Talking with the Dutch and English doctors was great. The Dutch talked about how peaceful their home country is, and they don’t really have a chance to practice this kind of triage there.  The English mentioned how great it was for them to be down here able to take care of their soldiers.

One, from the United Kingdom, wasn’t even in the military. She was a civilian here. She said she loved her soldiers so much she wanted to come and help them.

While walking the hallways of the combat hospitals, you could tell there was a lot of death there, a lot of suffering and pain. Trauma centers, intensive care centers, operating rooms are all places of life and death. They aren’t fun places, but they are places where good people save lives, and I was privileged to spend some time with them today.

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Comments (7)add comment

Thanks_173rd_Airborne said:

No More Numbers
Nate and Ken: Thanks so much for today's blog and vlog. I feel so honored to have seen and heard from the young wounded Marine. Once you get past how young he is, you can get on with the business of respecting who and what he has chosen to be.Thank God his wounds were no more serious than they were.

I honor and respect all who are serving in Afghanistan, especially my young SkySoldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. They are on their third deployment in Afghanistan, and some of the boys have also been in Iraq and Kosovo.I've known young paratroopes who sustained life-changing injuries, and I lost a young friend who was awarded a Silver Star during his first deployment to Afghanistan.We lost him later in the Korengal Valley. Not long before he was killed, he emailed me to thank me for a few little care packages that I sent to him.Think about all of the things he could have said in that email. What he wanted me to know was,"I love my job." Those were his words.He was on a tiny little firebase that existed more in somebody's imagination than in reality.He was doing the exact job that he wanted to do.It's important that we remember that, and it's important that we know and honor the man behind the number.His rank and his service record, as impressive as they were for a 27 year old, do not come within a country mile of telling his whole story. Just remember that everyone you meet in Afghanistan is a rich,complex,and multi-faceted being.And don't feel bad about loving your music,Nate. I wear a memorial bracelet for my SkySoldier. Everytime I eat pizza Margareta and have a glass of cabernet I touch his bracelet. I eat and drink for me and for him. Love your music for him and for Edward Swingle. People like us must celebrate their lives.
February 17, 2010
Votes: +2

Mike Moore said:

Thank You
Our AFSOC warriors (Special Tactics) and other Special Operators have lost a number of teammates in the year and a half I have been at AFSOC HQ. Thanks for bringing Edward's story to folks... there are countless heroes who do this each and every day... witnessed a Fallen Comrade Ceremony after being on the ground for three hours at Bagram in 2005... it changes you... Blessings! Michael
February 17, 2010
Votes: +0

dennis said:

awesome work in the states we have driveby news items, I wish you all my best for the job your doing. as was stated befor in the blog, maybe PBS can air this when done.smilies/smiley.gif
February 16, 2010
Votes: +0

Nathan said:

Public Domain
Hi Ema,
If you register for the site and send me a private message using the forums, I'll reply more personnaly to you than I will here. All content on this site is in the public doman and is free use. The only thing we request is attribution. Personnaly, My only hope is the Afghan story is told world wide, my name associated to that story is unnecessary.
February 16, 2010
Votes: -1

Ema Arsan ( Wendolene) said:

Please , did you give a permission to publish the contents of this blog to anyone? namely Sona Diartova?
I was really glad to discover your blog, which gives us some perspective about the events in Afganistan. I live in the USA and I shout my support to all the Americans out there and thanks to you, a lot of us can know a bit more about this.Let me ask you something though... I am of Czech origin ( there are Czech soldiers fighting in Afganistan) and I recently discovered that this article and the contents of your blog in a Czech internet newspaper blog by an author Sona Diartova. She claims to have YOUR permission to publish some of the contents of your blog. She literally said that Nathan gave her a permission to publish. Here is a link to the Czech text It is a cumbersome translation, the article was shortened and changed. The author Sona Diartova did not publish the source under the article, later admited the source of her article. The way it is published in the Czech press, it looks as her own work, it is simply wrong. While you are out there, someone else reaps the fruit of your labor. I posted my distaste with such practice under the Czech article, under a nickname Wendolene. I understand, that when you click on the link, you may not know what the author said, however, you will be able to see your names clearly. It is against the rules of the press to make someone else's work yours and not to cite your sources. Did you give permission to this woman named Sona Diartova to publish the contents of your blog? And if so, why did she not cite until she was confronted with accosted by a reader of the originality of the work and even then did not post the source together with the article, only casually mentioned it in the comments under the article??? .Please, respond, is is a matter of right and wrong. To me, it is a great disrespect to you who are risking life and limb to bring us information that states the good work that is being done there.Please write to me and clarify. Was there a permission given?
February 16, 2010
Votes: +1

Kristin Swanton said:

A Death Too Many
It is touching to read your experiences and feelings. Back here in the states, numbers of dead and wounded often pass across the news screen, but many people have no connection to these numbers. It is easy to become desensitized, thinking that a few here and there isn't much in comparison to other wars. Yet when you know these individuals, one is simply too many. I have been lucky enough to have all of my friends and family come home, uninjured. However, I am part of a support network for veterans and active duty soldiers, and I know the day will come when a single death becomes personal. I think we are constantly reminded by the Joseph Stalin quote "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic".

Yet at the same time, I think it's important to hear about the work these doctors and their medical facilities are doing. I think it is honorable to treat the civilians, Afghans, and even the insurgents, with medical treatment. I believe in these situations, it is correct that politics should have no place in the OR.

As for going on day to day, you should not feel guilty for enjoying life. What happened to Edwards and unfortunuately more soldiers/Marines to come, is not your fault. Appreciate and enjoy the freedoms that you have, but there will be a time and place for mourning.
February 16, 2010
Votes: +0

Carmen Read said:

A Similar Experience
Serendipitously, I too had an experience today that will end number associations for me. Every day I read the daily report of number wounded and number killed. Today I attended my first Fallen Warrior ceremony where I was given the honor of giving my respects to two flag covered caskets of brothers lost in action. When I touched the first casket, I knew I would never look at those numbers, or my job, the same again. We have the greatest job in the world, and I'm honored to be serving with people like you and Lance Corporal Edward Swingle.
February 16, 2010
Votes: +2

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