Face of Defense: Corpsman Boosts Afghan Forces

HAMPTON, Va. — Ensur­ing that Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty forces are trained and equipped to assume increased secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty is a key­stone of the U.S. and coali­tion strat­e­gy there.
Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Dar­rell T. Mang­ham rec­og­nizes that. But as a hos­pi­tal corps­man with exten­sive pre­ven­tive med­i­cine exper­tise, he also knows that the train-and-equip mis­sion can be brought to its knees if ill­ness or dis­ease infil­trates the force.

2011 Hunter-Strickland Excellence Award for Deployment Preventive Medicine
Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 1st Class Dar­rell Mang­ham checks on a wound­ed sailor dur­ing exer­cis­es at a range in South­west Asia in prepa­ra­tion for his deploy­ment to Afghanistan as assis­tant chief of pre­ven­tive med­i­cine for the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force train­ing mis­sion in Afghanistan. Mang­ham received the 2011 Hunter-Strick­land Excel­lence Award for Deploy­ment Pre­ven­tive Med­i­cine for his work dur­ing that deploy­ment.
U.S. Navy pho­to by Pet­ty Offi­cer 3rd Class Jorge Sauce­do
Click to enlarge

Mang­ham spent a year in Afghanistan help­ing to stand up pre­ven­tive med­i­cine pro­grams he said will have a long-term impact, not just on the Afghan Nation­al Army and Afghan Nation­al Police, but also on the country’s civil­ian population. 

For his efforts, Mang­ham became the first enlist­ed U.S. ser­vice mem­ber to receive the pres­ti­gious Hunter-Strick­land Excel­lence Award for Deploy­ment Pre­ven­tive Med­i­cine. This year’s award, pre­sent­ed yes­ter­day at the Armed Forces Pub­lic Health Con­fer­ence here, is named for Army Col. George W. Hunter III and Army Capt. G. Strick­land, pio­neers in advanc­ing trop­i­cal dis­ease pre­ven­tion dur­ing the 1940s. 

Mang­ham was sin­gled out this year as the ser­vice mem­ber who best exem­pli­fied their work in a deployed set­ting -– in his case, as assis­tant chief of pre­ven­tive med­i­cine for the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force train­ing mis­sion in Afghanistan from Feb­ru­ary 2009 to Feb­ru­ary 2010. Cur­rent­ly assigned to the Naval Med­ical Cen­ter in San Diego, Mang­ham knew he could serve as a corps­man sup­port­ing U.S. Marines fight­ing ene­my forces along­side their Afghan coun­ter­parts. But instead, he vol­un­teered to help the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces con­front a less-rec­og­nized but equal­ly insid­i­ous ene­my: ill­ness and dis­ease spread through poor hygiene, improp­er food stor­age and han­dling, and unsan­i­tary liv­ing and sleep­ing arrangements. 

“I vol­un­teered for this,” Mang­ham said of his first deploy­ment with the Afghan army. “I want­ed to go and assist at the ground lev­el in rebuild­ing Afghanistan as a nation.” Once on the ground in the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul, Mang­ham said, he began build­ing on ground­work already laid as a men­tor to the Afghan Nation­al Army’s sur­geon general’s pub­lic health chief. He led teams that inspect­ed the way the Afghans were ship­ping, stor­ing, prepar­ing and han­dling food for the army and police forces. Two of the big gaps he found were lack of refrig­er­a­tion and spe­cif­ic guide­lines regard­ing food. 

So, work­ing through the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, Mang­ham helped to secure fund­ing need­ed to buy refrig­er­a­tors and food-stor­age units. He also ini­ti­at­ed train­ing for food-ser­vice personnel. 

Mang­ham also began look­ing into liv­ing con­di­tions for Afghan secu­ri­ty forces. One prob­lem, he said, was that Afghan troops often shared the same bunk –- an accept­ed cul­tur­al norm in Afghanistan, but one Mang­ham said makes it too easy for ill­ness and dis­ease to spread. 

He helped to intro­duce a new ban on bunk-shar­ing, insti­tut­ing a rule that bunks must be three feet apart, with troops posi­tioned in alter­nat­ing head-to-toe arrange­ments. “That way, if one sol­dier sneezed, the germs would­n’t imme­di­ate­ly go to the next sol­dier,” he said. “That decreas­es the pass­ing of viral dis­eases.” Those efforts result­ed in a 40-per­cent decrease in dis­ease trans­mis­sion among the Afghan forces, he said. 

Oper­at­ing in the south­ern Kan­da­har and Hel­mand provinces, Mang­ham also served as senior non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer of a six-per­son team that ini­ti­at­ed med­ical screen­ing and vac­ci­na­tion pro­grams at Afghan Nation­al Police recruit­ing stations. 

In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing per­son­al hygiene train­ing, the team mem­bers iso­lat­ed police can­di­dates with con­ta­gious ill­ness­es, treat­ing them before allow­ing them to rejoin the ranks. Oth­er ini­tia­tives Mang­ham helped to intro­duce are just now start­ing to bear fruit. He helped in stand­ing up an Afghan pub­lic health offi­cer pro­gram, and its first class grad­u­at­ed three weeks ago. 

“It was a very, very suc­cess­ful mis­sion,” he said of his deploy­ment. “We got a lot accom­plished in the year I was there and left a lot of ini­tia­tives in place. The mis­sion is suc­cess­ful and thriv­ing. I think we are going to see the state of pub­lic health in Afghanistan thrive in the next two to three years.” 

Mang­ham called these efforts an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion toward a more inde­pen­dent Afghanistan with a mil­i­tary more capa­ble of pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty. The impact, he said, will remain long after the U.S. and coali­tion mis­sion in Afghanistan ends. “This goes way beyond the mil­i­tary,” he said, not­ing that the pre­ven­tive med­i­cine lessons being learned will extend to Afghanistan’s civil­ian population. 

“I can train an Afghan doc­tor in pub­lic-health issues,” he added, “but he’s the one who is going to be most effec­tive in get­ting that mes­sage across to the Afghan peo­ple.” Mang­ham said he is hon­ored to receive this year’s Hunter-Strick­land Excel­lence Award for Deploy­ment Pre­ven­tive Medicine. 

“But this is not some­thing I did as an indi­vid­ual,” he said. “There were a lot of key play­ers in this effort. I am just one of them.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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