Nursing Officer brings home lessons from Kandahar Airfield

Published on CAPT Chris Rickey (author), LEUT Kate Mathias (author), CPL Chris Moore (photographer)

Location(s): Kandahar, Afghanistan

Topic(s): Operations

Lieutenant Commander Kylie Storen is a member of the Australian Specialist Health Group based at the NATO Role 3 facility at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (photo: CPL Chris Moore)
Lieutenant Commander Kylie Storen is a member of the Australian Specialist Health Group based at the NATO Role 3 facility at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

Kandahar Airfield (KAF) is, for all intents and purposes, a sprawling city, home to thousands of coalition troops, civilian contractors and locally engaged employees. Tucked alongside one of the main runways (one of the largest and busiest airstrips in the world), you will find a NATO Multinational Medical Unit (MMU) that is every bit a modern, first-world hospital and given its location inside a war zone, it should come as no surprise that it is fully equipped to deal with the very worst kinds of wounds and serious injuries.

The MMU is operated by the United States Navy but a small team of Australian Defence Force (ADF) medical and nursing specialists embed among the US clinicians. Nursing Officer, Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Kylie Storen, RAN, was, until recently, a member of that small group. The Australian Health Support Group she deployed with consisted of nine highly trained medical officers - doctors, nurses, surgeons and a psychiatrist - and provided acute critical health care to Australian and Coalition Defence Force personnel, as well as civilians, and Afghan National Security Forces.

LCDR Storen praised the facilities in the hospital, “We could do pretty much everything that we could do at the very best Intensive Care Unit (ICU) back home. Everything from having a patient mechanically ventilated and sedated to, if we really needed to, performing an operation in our ICU,” LCDR Storen said.

Apart from the ADF team’s contribution to saving battlefield casualties, which is significant, there are other massive benefits emerging from Australia’s involvement with the NATO Multinational hospital.

“In a first-world hospital, you just don’t see battlefield trauma. It is good for us to know that all of the trauma training that we have done in Australia, particularly the military training in trauma management, is exactly the same as our US partners. The fact that within a week of arriving, we were fully integrated into the US teams and were working with the same skills and protocols as US clinicians is very reassuring,” said LCDR Storen.

Throughout the four month deployment LCDR Storen and the team cared for over 110 critically injured coalition troops and civilians, including three mass casualty situations. There was no doubt that this team were in a ‘war zone’. Day to day core business was unpredictable. Often faced with devastatingly sad situations, the team drew comfort from the 98% survival rate of their patients.

“A major factor in this, I believe, was our ability to adapt and to consistently apply five key factors of a ‘war fighting culture’: flexibility, agility, resilience, responsiveness and robustness. It was imperative that our medical teams had the ability to maintain effectiveness across a range of tasks, situations and conditions. We were able to sustain loss, damage and setbacks yet still maintain essential levels of capability to function effectively as a team within the war fighting domain,” said LCDR Storen.

“If there is one lesson to bring home from this deployment it is that we are all war fighters regardless of our service, rate or primary qualification and everyone in the Navy contributes to our war fighting mission whether it be at sea or on the land.”

After enjoying some well earned post deployment leave, LCDR Storen is taking on a very different challenge as the Manager, Embed Signature Behaviour Initiatives in the New Generation Navy team.

“I have always been proud to serve as a member of the Royal Australian Navy and I am equally proud to have served in Afghanistan. I look forward to being part of the NGN team, facilitating Navy’s 2014 initiatives to achieve our important mission to fight and win at sea,” said LCDR Storen.