Friday, June 15, 2018

'I woke up in Afghanistan': One MGHer's deployment experience

GRADUATION DAY: Gottlieb and his daughter, Samantha

A special event was hosted June 5 by MGH Human Resources and MGH Military Veteran Partners in the O’Keeffe Auditorium for Andy Gottlieb to share about his recent deployment in Kabul, Afghanistan.

On May 27, 2017, Andy Gottlieb attended his daughter’s graduation from West Point. Two days later, he shipped out to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was deployed for 351 days as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and Resolute Support.

Gottlieb, NP, FNP-BC, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and director of MGH Occupational Health – who joined the Reserves in 1992 – served as acting commander of the Hamid Karzai International Airport Coalition Hospital, a Role 2 NATO hospital for trauma and resuscitation care.

“My job here – and there – is to make sure people can do their jobs in a safe and healthy way,” says Gottlieb, who returned to the MGH in April. “Among many differences, though, was as hospital commander I was on call 24/7. I slept with my phone under my pillow – I needed to always know what was going on. Over there, there are no days off.”

Included in his many responsibilities as hospital commander, Gottlieb sent daily reports to his superiors, organized weekly presentations, managed personnel, dealt with equipment supply issues – like when an air conditioning unit in the hospital broke during the summer – and, hosted training and education drills. He also completed mandatory training that U.S. soldiers must take part in while deployed and traveled to other hospital sites.

“I missed home. I missed my wife, my family and my job here,” Gottlieb says. “But it was a good job. If I was a single guy without all this to come back to, I would have stayed there.”

Still, Gottlieb says there are many challenges in the NATO hospital. Though French and English are the official languages of NATO, many people there do not speak either one. Medical practice standards differ from country to country, so mandating and enforcing best practices in the hospital also posed a challenge, says Gottlieb. “We try to be as culturally sensitive as possible to the different nationalities we care for, and work with, in the hospital.”

NO DAYS OFF: Gottlieb, at right, with a colleague in Afghanistan

Gottlieb speaks highly of his Turkish commanding officer. “I have to give him credit, he put such value on building relationships with people. With any conversation, he insisted on sitting down to have tea and coffee together – it’s part of the culture. I learned that you can sometimes disagree but still work together. He taught me how essential it is to build relationships.”

While Gottlieb says he generally felt safe in Afghanistan, indirect fire still is one of the biggest threats. “When you hear the sirens go off, you just get down,” he says. There also was threat of vehicle attacks – one form of an IED (improvised explosive device) – and snakes, bats, mosquitos and cats, which can carry malaria and rabies.

Gottlieb now has two years during which he won’t be redeployed. And though he doesn’t think he’ll return to Afghanistan, he urged others to seize any opportunity for an adventure as life-changing as this was for him. “This really was an eye-opening experience,” Gottlieb says. “Not that I have any plans to write a memoir, but if I did, I feel like the title would be ‘I woke up in Afghanistan.’ I see the world through a whole new set of eyes now.”



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