MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho – A deafening explosion
ripped through the air at a remote forward operating base in Zabul
Shuttering and shaken by the blast,
one medic recalled being in a monotonous state of performing routine
medical care when the thunder of chaos stunned her that April 6,
2013, morning at FOB Smart.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Karley Karlson, 366th Aerospace
Medicine Squadron surgery medical technician, administers a vaccine
to a U.S. Army scout from the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart,
Ga., April 25, 2013. Karlson deployed from Mountain Home Air Force
Base, Idaho, to the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team, Qalat
City, Zabul Province, Afghanistan. She hails from Cambridge, N.Y.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Patrice Clarke)
Life seemingly changed when a suicide vehicle-borne
improvised explosive device detonated, killing three
American soldiers, a U.S. Diplomat and Afghan civilians
right outside the FOB entry point.
months later, still with a shaking voice, Senior Airman Karley Karlson, a 366th Surgical Operations Squadron
Aerospace Medical Services technician, deployed as a Female
Engagement Team member at the Zabul Provincial
Reconstruction Team, recalled the terror.
(physician's assistant) was out on a mission and I was at
our small clinic with another technician, when all of a
sudden we heard a horrific explosion that sounded like it
was right outside,” said 22-year-old Karlson, from
Cambridge, N.Y. “As if in a state of abnormal reality, I
remember suddenly being in my room donning body armor,
locking and loading my rifle, and heading out to engage
whoever was attacking.”
Though at remote FOBs and
outposts, everyone's a rifleman and sometimes situations
warrant all weapons on target, such wasn't the case that
day. Karlson's medical expertise was needed in the clinic.
“I remember waiting for the first casualty to come in
and wondering how bad it was out there. Then it happened,
the first Soldier who was brought through the door was not
only American, but a good friend of mine,” said Karlson. “It
hurt to see him mutilated, but I knew I had a job to do.”
The drama didn't stop with just that one soldier.
“One after another, dead or wounded friends of mine kept
coming in as we tried to do everything and anything we could
to save them,” she said.
Karlson and most service
members know serving in the armed forces is a particularly
dangerous job. The risk of dying is known with all enlistees
or commissioned officers.
However, the diplomat and
Soldiers killed that day were not seeking to engage
insurgents in kinetic action, they weren't taking any hills,
they were merely on a humanitarian mission to deliver books
and other school supplies to the children of Qalat, said
In a press statement from Washington,
Secretary of State John Kerry commented on the fallen
diplomat and soldiers April 6.
“I wish everyone in
our country could see first-hand the devotion, loyalty, and
amazingly hard and hazardous work our diplomats do on the
front lines in the world's most dangerous places,” said
Reuters reported the Taliban claimed
responsibility for the attack.
“It's hard being over
there and seeing good people trying tirelessly to make a
life for themselves while others continue to terrorize and
brutalize them,” said Karlson, whose FET duties often
exposed her to women and sometimes girls, who fell victim to
oppressors and abusers.
FETs are comprised of female
service members from various service branches and units,
whom all bring a variety of skill sets to the team. Karlson
most frequently worked with an Army civil affairs officer.
Gathering information, communicating and assisting women
with Afghan female-related issues was Karlson's primary
mission, and she also executed her primary skillset of a
medic in the FOB clinic.
Both duties instilled
confidence that she could make a difference in the war-torn
land, said Karlson. But, it was the FET duties that often
took her outside the wire to interact with the population.
Karlson said she reveled in each chance to engage
In one extreme case, Karlson remembers one
woman who was raped, and then later forced to marry the man
who raped her, so her family could save face.
Afghan households, only a woman's close relatives, a father,
brother or husband can see her face or speak to her, putting
women at a serious disadvantage to male counterparts when it
comes to improving impoverished areas and enhancing commerce
“Zabul is a very traditional area and
women have very little rights there,” said Karlson. “To help
bolster them in society, we tried establishing female radio
broadcasts, launched a gardening project, hosted female
career days and actively sought other avenues to help women
establish themselves in society.”
Karlson, Afghans want a better tomorrow, they want to help;
they just need their voice to be heard.
come from far away to meet with us, it was humbling and I'll
forever be grateful that not only have I possibly impacted
them in some small way, they've changed me monumentally,”
said Karlson, who admits adjusting to her return to Mountain
Home Air Force Base has been hard because in comparison to
the horrific problems Afghan women face, what she sees here
is comparatively small.
The provincial governor, Dr.
Amin Rafiullah, agreed.
“If you don't have females
contributing to the society and the economy, then that
society and economy is doomed to never succeed,” said
With a glisten in her eye, Karlson said
her experience in Afghanistan, though extremely troubling in
some ways, was the most fruitful experience she's ever had,
and will forever be thankful for being given the chance to
Still, the horrors of war are never far from
Karlson keeps in regular touch with her
security detail, a team of U.S. Army scouts from the 3rd
Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga., who are scheduled to
return to Georgia in July 2013.
“Those guys are like
family, there's really no way to quantify the emotions and
bonds that develop at war and in the face of tragedy,” said
Karlson. “What I do know is this; we lost some great men –
great Americans – real-life heroes over there. But they
didn't die in vain. What we did there meant something and
the world will see that someday.”
About the Senior
Airman Karley Karlson:
Senior Airman Karley Karlson
is an Aerospace Medical Services technician assigned to the
366th Surgical Operations Squadron, 366th Medical Group,
366th Fighter Wing, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The
366th MDG provides medical services to support about 24,000
military beneficiaries, and enables sustained combat
capability for the 366th FW, home to the most diverse
operations group in Air Combat Command. The 366th Operations
Group consists of three fighter squadrons, and F-15E and
F-15SG fighter aircraft and supports multi-national
interests. Karlson's daily duties ensure combat readiness
for short-notice worldwide Air Expeditionary Force
deployments and contingency operations.
Home Air Force Base is Karlson's first permanent duty
station and she's been assigned here three years. She hails
from Cambridge, N.Y., and graduated from Cambridge High
School in 2008. Karlson plans to become an allergy
technician and eventually go into aeromedical evacuations,
where she can, once again, support contingency operations in
By USMC Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
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