Three Airmen received the Bronze Star for their actions in curbing a COVID-19 outbreak in the NATO headquarters in Afghanistan.
During a deployment in Afghanistan last year, the three Air Force troops (two doctors and a medic) were key in first stalling and then stopping the outbreak.
The three recipients are Captain Kathleen Schurr, Captain Katie Coble, and Master Sergeant Brandon “Hock” Hockenbarger.
Like every part of the world, Afghanistan was hit by the COVID-19. At one point, the situation in the NATO headquarters seemed out of control as increasingly more people became sick. From June to July there was an almost 80 percent increase in cases (approximately 40 cases in June and 200 cases in July). Several patients were so ill that they had to be evacuated to U.S. medical facilities in Germany to receive better care. Others who presented milder symptoms were also evacuated so as to give the team some breathing space.
“When I arrived, within 15 minutes I was going door to door swabbing isolation patients,” Hockenbarger said in a press release. “I took a step back and saw the U.S. and NATO service members were not able to socially distance while in line to get tested, so I worked with our civil engineers to move the testing site to allow everyone to safely distance while testing more efficiently.”
But it wasn’t just about COVID-19 as Afghanistan is an active warzone. Hockenbarger and his team knew that if they contracted the virus, the lives of regular patients would be at risk. So they had to balance treating the pandemic and treating wounded troops.
“Everyone [on the base] was pretty close, individuals are going to see each other,” Captain Schurr said to Stars and Stripes. “The hardest part was figuring out a good plan of attack to keep those who were exposed from exposing other people.”
Hockenbarger and his team were successful. In a three-month period, they saw positive rates dropping from 30 percent to just 1 percent. (Positive rates are the percentage of all Coronavirus tests performed that come out positive.)
Warzones, and Afghanistan in particular, haven’t escaped the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Sandboxx News has learned that US troops in the country have been going out of the wire only for the direst of needs. And this protective measure applies to both conventional and special operations units.
NATO’s Afghan headquarters is located in Kabul’s green zone, alongside other coalition bases.