USAF lab tech teaches Afghans
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Staff Sgt. Cole Mason, a medical embedded training team member, provides Afghan students in the Allied Health Professional's Institute near Camp Eggars, Afghanistan, hands-on instruction with microscopes. Sergeant Mason instructed a class of 20 Afghan National Guard and Afghan National Police for six months regarding laboratory procedures and practices. (Air Force courtesy photo)
by Senior Airman Clay Murray
52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
9/1/2010 - SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- What do American pop culture and lab practices like drawing blood have in common?
Just ask one technical sergeant who mish-mashed his people and technical skills to teach Afghanis essential medical procedures downrange.
Tech. Sgt. Cole Mason, 52nd Medical Group laboratory NCOIC, was deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he served as one of three instructors who taught modern medical techniques. Sergeant Mason taught laboratory technicians, and two other instructors led ultrasound and X-ray classes.
"I was teaching them how to be a lab tech, that way after they graduated they could go out and do that job to help the Afghans," Sergeant Mason said. "I taught them the proper way to draw blood with gloves to reduce the spread of disease. I also taught them how to run small analyzers and how to do cholesterol tests and blood bank. Eventually they were able to type donated blood so it could go out to the people. With hematology we showed them how to draw a sample and stain the blood to view it under a microscope where you can determine many different things."
Sergeant Mason and his small team who trained together for three months as part of a larger group, deployed to Afghanistan as a medical embedded training team. The team was stationed at Camp Eggers, Afghanistan, but they did most of their operations and instruction in a small nearby schoolhouse that, during his time there, went from a bare facility to a classroom complete with desks and equipment.
"Behind the regional hospital was this village where we would teach," Sergeant Mason said, "It was called the Allied Health Professional's Institute. I explained to my students when you look at a slide of blood under a microscope, you can actually count all these different blood cells, and with that count, we can figure out that the patient may have an illness, an infection, cancer or the major thing there - malaria. When they saw that, they just couldn't believe it.
"We actually got the study material from out of the tech school books - it was the exact study material they used with us that were translated to Darhi, and then we printed them for the students to learn," he said.
Classroom instruction was challenging at first for teachers, Sergeant Mason said, due to shortage of equipment, gaps in comprehension and culture differences, but before long he brainstormed some of his own methods.
"They watched me draw blood, make a smear, stain it and put it under the microscope," Sergeant Mason said. "They could actually see the cells inside of their own blood. As soon as that happened and we had those scopes, their eyes just lit up, and they wanted to learn more and more - we would spend hours answering questions.
Despite differences in culture, many students there knew of Michael Jackson and loved American wrestling. Sergeant Mason took this cultural connection to the next level and used it in his classroom.
"I would ask them what would happen when type A and type B blood were two different wrestlers and stepped into the ring," he said. "They loved American wrestling, and they'd go crazy and tell me how the two would fight! That's when they understood it and really got it."
Besides the students' eagerness in the classroom, Sergeant Mason was impressed by the determination and enthusiasm that brought them there every day.
"One student said his brother was killed by the Taliban because he had a telephone number in his wallet that belonged to an American," Sergeant Mason explained. "They just killed him on the side of the road. They literally risk their lives every day to learn. That's the part that I thought was just crazy. I would go down and visit them because they live in the same building where they learned.
"It was definitely the best deployment I've ever been on because it was very rewarding to actually teach and know that these guys will go out and do good things for Afghanistan, but it also made me realize how lucky we are to be over here," he said.