April 25, 2012
By Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers
Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a two-part series about the district of Now Zad in southern Helmand province, Afghanistan, and the Marine responsible for rebuilding it after years of insurgents and unrest.
In 2009, Navy Capt. Thomas A. Craig flew over the district of Now Zad, Helmand province, Afghanistan. From the aerial view, Now Zad was a bombed-out, burned-up, uninhabited region where insurgents were still a threat. All structures were leveled and most of the canals ruined. Improvised explosive devicesplaced by insurgents still littered the landscape. Marines had even given it a nickname, “Apocalypse Now Zad.”
Just ten years ago, however, the district of Now Zad, Afghanistan, was considered a vacation spot for the Afghan people. Nestled at the foot of the Hindu Kush Mountains, the area received water from an aqueduct system built by the British in the 1960s. Lush farmlands and gardens lay in stark contrast to the surrounding desert region. The area had electricity in the homes, a marketplace, a health clinic, a school and even a petrol station.
Then the Taliban came.
The once peaceful farming community became over-run with insurgents resting up between fights. Residents were no longer safe. In 2008, British forces bombed the region to clear out insurgents and Marines fought on the ground. Even afterward, Now Zad still was not fit for inhabitants.
But in 2009, Craig and the Marines returned – this time to restore the region.
The Marines came in, plowed the roads and removed IEDs. Like magic, the people of Now Zad returned.
“Within five days, right outside our compound, the market had already opened up shops, and the local Afghan civilians were coming down and selling bread, vegetables, chickens,” said Craig, Emergency Medicine Staff Attending, Deputy Director Warrior Family Coordination Cell at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
With the threat of Taliban in the region gone, the residents had hope of a new beginning. While infantry Marines conducted security operations, Marines with the Civil Affairs Group went in to assess the needs of the village. It became clear one of these needs was female healthcare.
“We realized if we had a female doc, they could talk to the female population and do a lot of good things for community health,” Craig said.
A team of one Navy nurse and three female corpsmen were brought up from Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, to address the needs in Now Zad. One of these healthcare providers was Navy Lt. Amy P. Zaycek.
“I was scared to death,” said Zaycek, a Navy nurse with the Shock Trauma Platoon. “I am a Navy nurse – I don’t go on convoys. We don’t get trained in any of that stuff. If you look at Now Zad, it is not a nice place to be at all.”
When the healthcare team reached Now Zad, however, they were swarmed with women and children who hadn’t received proper medical attention in seven years.
“I think we treated, saw, took care of and spoke to more than 300 people in the two months I was there,” Zaycek said.
Most of the care needed was basic instruction on things like hand-washing, teeth-brushing, birth control methods and proper hygiene. Zaycek and the corpsmen, along with members of the Female Engagement Team, passed out toothbrushes and toothpaste and educational materials about hygiene.
Some of the residents, though, were in desperate need of medical attention.
“One woman came to me who was sewn up with twine following a surgery about three months ago,” Zaycek said. “Seeing that is pretty scary as a healthcare provider.”
While it was necessary to provide healthcare to the women and children in the region, it was only a temporary fix. Now Zad needed a long-term solution.
“It was really important to find out where they had gotten their previous healthcare,” Zaycek said. “We went out into the villages and worked with the district mayor and the Civil Affairs Group to find out who these healthcare people were in order to get their economy stimulated again. They couldn’t always rely on us.”
Zaycek and her medical team worked together with the CAG to locate former Now Zad healthcare workers and bring them back to the struggling community.
“Healthcare and economics are so important, and us working together as the Navy-Marine Corps team just solidified that and opened up doors,” Zayek said. “We found a midwife and a pharmacist, so we didn’t have to come in there and keep providing healthcare.”
In just a few months, the Navy-Marine Corps team was able to begin building the community back up, starting with the healthcare. A medical clinic and school were opened up, both of which the residents had been without for years. Although Zaycek and her team had to return to Camp Dwyer to continue other operations, they were proud of the work they had accomplished in helping Now Zad get back on its feet.
“You go up to Now Zad, and this is the real deal,” Zaycek said. “You’re going to play with the Marines. You’re going to earn your Fleet Marine Force pin. And that’s where I feel like I did it.”
But the work in Now Zad wasn’t done.