By Butch Wehry
Academy Spirit staff
An Academy medic with the 10th Medical Group will receive a Bronze Star medal at a 10th Air Base Wing commander’s call scheduled for Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. in the Arnold Hall Theater.
Lt. Col. Montserrat Edie-Korleski managed medical contingency plans such as mass casualty and personnel accountability plans while deployed to Afghanistan from January to June 2009.
Colonel Edie-Korleski also directed international medical mentorship and training programs to train Afghan medics of all specialties. She is currently stationed at Fort Carson, where she is director of the Colorado Springs Multi-Service Market Office.
The daughter of an Air Force father and Spanish mother, she was born on Zaragoza Air Base, Spain, and now calls Colorado Springs home.
One program she worked with is an effort led by U.S., Egyptian and Korean hospitals, all located at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. The program, created specifically for civilian Afghan doctors, focuses on primary care for subjects such as decreasing infant mortality and malnutrition as well as improving women’s health and sanitation methods.
Another program is for the Afghan military medical personnel: a trauma-based program, that is much-needed because they are the ones directly engaged in the day-to-day combat missions. The objective of both training courses is to give medical professionals tools to train other medical personnel once they return to their native provinces or military installations, Colonel Edie-Korleski said.
“Overall, these programs empower Afghans to improve their own health care system with the sense of ownership. In my personal opinion, this is a key ingredient for a healthy and successful development of one’s own country,” she said.
Bagram Air Field is the only place in Afghanistan where health care professionals can get this unique coalition training, the colonel said. The programs were very successful and popular – so much so that doctors travel from regions where security is precarious in order to help their own people improve their health and encourage others to participate despite the danger that surrounds their everyday lives.
“We – everyone at home included – contribute to the improvement of the Afghan people’s lives,” she said. “Every little contribution helps; and yes, your wonderful boxes of ‘goodies’ contributed by uplifting our morale, which in turn helped us accomplish our stressful mission and gave us the sense of well-being knowing that we were equally cared for by our own back home.”
Colonel Edie-Korleski’s guidance allowed one of the busiest hospitals in the country to flourish and expand the area of outpatient care, operating room and intensive care units.
“It was done thanks to the diligent professional medical staff of our coalition hospitals,” she said. “Most of the credit goes to those who sacrificed their lives to providing care for the people in need. The docs, nurses, medical technicians, medical logisticians, medical ancillaries, medical admin and the wonderful translators staff did all of the work to make this program work.”
She was instrumental in getting $120,000 for the startup and maintenance of the medical mentorship and training programs.
“It gave us hope that the program would be sustainable and that the Afghan doctors would have tools for training other medical professionals in their respective provinces,” she said.
She gave precious time to the Provincial Reconstruction Team’s book about medics training, medical and recruitment for local doctors. The Bronze Star’s narrative notes that her assessment was critical feedback on IMMTP effectiveness and training program reliability.
“Unfortunately, I left before I could assess the full results,” the colonel said.
She also went to a Village Medical Outreach in Jijrab, Kapisa Province, where 300 people were cared for. There, medics mainly saw pediatric cases of malnutrition and upper respiratory infections. Other medical conditions included high incidence of child mortality, infections of all types, hypertension she said.
Her work attracted six physicians from Konar and nine from Kapisa and Parwan provinces. The Afghan press, along with the coalition press, did many spots on the program, which generated a lot of interest from provinces near Bagram.
She played a key role in overseeing and directing a $1.7-million budget for an Egyptian hospital to support deliver of care to more than 245,000 patients, including more than 800 inpatients, and using $225,000 in medical supply orders.
Providers face many of the same security threats that coalition forces must confront daily.
“Many women providers experience death threats from their own family members, neighbors and villagers,” she added.
She personally helped physicians treat and dispense medicine and deliver food, clothing, blankets and hygiene items while deployed.
“Convoying in and out of one-way roads in the mountain villages is always dangerous,” the colonel said. “I was fortunate to serve with a wonderful and valiant group of U.S. military servicemembers, along with the French contingency of medics and Afghan (servicemembers) and translators, who protected every step I took. I never felt threatened during our clinic in the village – those Soldiers, Airmen and Marines made me feel like I had angels around me. I also relied on my military training: I didn’t take anything for granted, and I never placed myself or my team in a precarious situation.”
The colonel translated medical records from wounded soldiers coming from forward operating bases, saving operating room time, unnecessary treatment and valuable time to save patient’s lives.
She said she’s always been interested in learning and teaching, adding that her husband, Daniel Korleski, and her mother, Montserrat Edie, think of her as “driven.”
“Both my grandmothers influenced my father and mother, who in turn influenced me,” she said. “My American grandmother taught me to be financially independent. My father taught me ethics of work. My Spanish grandmother taught my mother to respect and care for people regardless of their condition, and in turn, my mother has taught me to serve others.
“My husband has also been a great influence,” she continued. “His dedication and respect for my profession with all its sacrifices has taught me to support and balance his career decisions without placing my own above his and vice-versa.”
Colonel Edie-Korleski, who holds a doctorate in training and development from North Texas University, said her Afghanistan deployment has changed her “in ways I can’t even explain.”
“I feel very proud of the men and women who serve, and I have great respect for the Afghans who want to change and help their people out of the misery they live in today,” she said.