Like many of you I watched the footage of the last plane leaving Afghanistan with a whirlwind of emotions. That C-17 lifting off at 3:29 pm (EST) on August 30th marked the end of our Nation’s longest war. Over the last two decades our One Navy Medicine Team played an indispensable role providing frontline care pivotal in saving life and limb. From the immediate combat casualty care on the front lines of the battlefield, the role of FRSS/STPs, to the 11-year command of the NATO Role III Multinational Medical Unit in Kandahar we succeeded in our mission to advance healthcare and surgical needs in an inhospitable environment.
Sadly, this hard-fought war cost this Nation some of its best and brightest. Some 2,461 American military personnel were killed in action in Afghanistan and over 20,000 wounded. Their names, life stories, sacrifice and devotion will remain with us. Reaching any closure is made more difficult with the tragic death of HM3 Maxton Soviak, a 22-year old Corpsman from Berlin Heights, Ohio killed in a terrorist attack at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul last week. We continue to mourn the loss of one of Navy Medicine’s own, as well as the 11 Marines and one Soldier who also perished in the blast. We hope that in time the feelings of anguish will be tempered by the knowledge that they gave their all to protect people in need. In addition, as I write this an extensive search and rescue mission continues for the crew of a helicopter assigned to USS Abraham Lincoln. Please keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers.
As our chapter in Afghanistan ends, a new one has begun with the care for Afghan evacuees at DoD bases both stateside and overseas. DoD is providing temporary housing, sustainment and support—including medical care—to over 100,000 fleeing Afghans, both young and old. Members of our Navy Medicine team have reported to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Joint Base Fort Dix, Fort Pickett, Camp Atterbury, Indiana, US Naval Air Stations Rota and Sigonella, as well as special camps in Bahrain and Kuwait to screen evacuees for COVID-19, provide vaccinations and medical care, where needed. As this mission continues to develop, we expect other medical personnel will be called upon to support this mission in the coming weeks.
I encourage you to keep our fellow medical colleagues in mind and remember the sacrifices and contributions they make every day. As we enter Labor Day Weekend, we recognize and celebrate the workers of our great Nation. Our military, civilian, and contractor team works hard to support mission success, so if you’re fortunate enough to take some time off and rest – please do so – and also take time to reflect on and appreciate the efforts of those who have the watch. We currently have shipmates deployed to support Operation Afghan Rescue, the earthquake response in Haiti, COVID-19 relief at stateside hospitals, and in service with Fleet or Marine Corps. The One Navy Medicine team continues to answer all bells and do it in a superb manner. Well done shipmates!
With my deepest respect, SG
Bruce L. Gillingham, MD, CPE, FAOA
RADM, MC, USN
Surgeon General, U.S. Navy
Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery