Physician Assistant Makes Difference in Afghanistan
(February 6, 2009)
Air Force Capt. James Parris, a physician assistant from
Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is deployed as part of the
Paktia Provincial Reconstruction Team in Gardez,
Afghanistan. Courtesy photo
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Feb. 3, 2009
-- What began as a short-notice tasking to Afghanistan has
turned into the opportunity of a lifetime for an Air Force
Capt. James Parris is deployed to
Gardez in Afghanistan's Paktia province from Eglin Air Force
Base, Fla., as part of the Paktia Provincial Reconstruction
After training in various stateside locations, Parris
arrived at Forward Operating Base Gardez and became the
team's director of medical plans.
“My work here is more of coordination, meetings, project
overview and monitoring,” he said. “Before I came here, I
thought my primary mission would be taking care of my team
for nine months.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I
would be coordinating projects that affect the lives of almost 500,000 Afghans.”
He supervises the three enlisted Air Force
medics assigned to the team.
“Together we are responsible for taking care of our team's
illnesses or injuries. We are well prepared to care for
injuries, whether combat related or otherwise. My team also
conducts weekly medical training for the PRT, ensuring we're
all ready in the event of an attack on the FOB or on a
convoy,” Parris said.
He's also responsible for the base's mass casualty plan and
coordination with the U.S. Army Battalion Aid Station, which
treats the Army personnel, civilians, Afghan security guards
and interpreters who reside on the base.
The captain oversees programs related to the province's
medical or health concerns. In the past, PRTs offered
medical civil affairs programs, which provided mobile
medical care to local residents.
“This helped people directly, but over the years we found
that they essentially undermined the Afghan government and
the local economy,” he said. “If our medical team treats ill
Afghans, this takes money away from the local doctors. If we
provide medicine, the local pharmacist can't feed his
The medical civil affairs programs also had an American face
on them -- “something we now strive to avoid,” Parris added.
“Our PRT's goal is to develop and foster the Afghan
government's credibility and strength,” he said.
Most of the villages still lack power or transportation and
have limited health facilities. Getting to a health facility
is still a long, grueling process for some, and people die
because they simply can't get to a health facility easily.
The PRT focuses on projects, such as building roads, that
will connect people to their infrastructure and increase
“We are striving for quality and sustainability in all
areas,” Parris said. “As the saying goes, we are no longer
giving people fish; we are teaching them to fish so that
they can sustain long after our mission here is complete.”
The captain arranges for clinics to be staffed and ensures
that equipment and medicine are available. He oversees a
$7.5 million, 100-bed provincial hospital, training centers
for midwives and nurses, maternity and eye-care hospitals
and the building of numerous clinics.
To combat malnutrition among children, Parris is trying to
institute a "strong foods" program throughout the province
over the winter that will aid children under 5. Nearly 20
percent of the children here do not reach their fifth
birthday, he said.
The “strong foods” program uses locally purchased items such
as almonds, milk, oil, sugar and liquid vitamins to make a
food paste. The paste increases the children's weight up to
a pound per week, restoring their health status to normal in
as little as six to eight weeks.
With six more months remaining on his deployment, Parris
said he is optimistic about the progress he and his team
will bring to Paktia.
“I have always wanted to make a difference and help people
live a better life,” Parris said. “That's the reason I
became a PA over eight years ago. After this assignment, I
will know for sure that I have turned my dream into
By Air Force Capt. Stacie N. Shafran
Paktia Provincial Reconstruction Team
Special to American Forces Press Service
Forces Press Service / DoD
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