Helping women in a warzone
Lake Orion grad and army officer helping in Afghanistan
September 07, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
In Lake Orion or Afghanistan, women are all the same.
Those that gather in the remote Kandahar Province of Afghanistan talk about their families and private lives, just like girlfriends back home, said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Kimberly Duenow, a 1997 graduate of Lake Orion High School.
She is stationed at forward-operating base Pasab. There, Duenow is a brigade nurse and officer in charge of Operation Spartan Stork, designed to provide child birth education and medical supplies to women in the remote area.
"Many of the women I meet with talk freely and are opinionated," Duenow said, with a laugh. "They are a lot like us."
That is where the similarities end, however, for these Afghan women live in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, influenced by the Taliban, Duenow said.
Afghanistan also has the second highest infant mortality and maternal mortality rates on the planet, according to Operation Spartan Stork materials. This translates to 140 infant deaths for every 1,000 children born there; 1,800 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. Pregnancy-related complications lead to death for one out of every eight Afghan women.
"Pregnant women here sometimes visit clinics for pre-natal care," Duenow said. "But the majority of births take place in homes."
Duenow and her medical colleagues are members of the Combined Task Force Spartan Medical Team, which formed Operation Spartan Stork began in June. Soldier volunteers, including army doctors, assemble "birthing kits" used by mid-wives and others to safely deliver babies and address the medical needs of women who just gave birth.
Each kit contains a bar of soap, alcohol swabs, sterile gloves, 4x4 gauze pads, umbilical clamp, scalpel blade, suction bulb, towels, baby blanket, betadine brush, baby cap, maternity chucks pads, Ziploc bag and a garbage bag.
In addition to providing birthing kits, the engagement teams made up of female soldiers also instruct a class on how to properly deliver a baby, sterilize the area and identify emergencies. Language issues are overcome with interpreters.
"The women have been very receptive to the kits and instruction," she said. "We show them how to prevent infections and control bleeding."
The biggest challenge Operation Spartan Stork faces is gaining access to women in Afghanistan.
"They are not in the forefront of this society," Duenow explained. "Women aren't free to move around, especially in this area, and they risk their lives just to meet and talk to us."
Building trust with the Afghan people is very important to the mission of Coalition forces, said Capt. Kevin Sandell, public affairs officer for the brigade. "We're doing things that the Taliban cannot provide these people. They really don't care about the women of Afghanistan. The coalition forces can provide for their needs."
Duenow's father encouraged her to join the U.S. Army after she graduated from Oakland University with a nursing degree. The Lake Orion native had been involved in a variety of non-profit, charitable activities over the years, and when she arrived in Afghanistan the idea of helping women and children appealed to her sense of wanting to give back to others, she said.
"Of all things I've done here and experienced, this has become my No. 1 cause that I hope more people can support," Duenow said. "Afghan women and children are in the minority here and their health is a huge issue."
The 1st Lt. from Lake Orion is due to return to the United States next March, where she will await her next assignment. She also plans to return to school to become a nurse practitioner.
Operation Spartan Stork is entirely volunteer-funded and staffed. Persons interested in donating to the effort should visit the Spirit of America website at www.spiritofamerica.net/site/blog/1277. Persons can also visit the Operation Stork Facebook page, www.facebook.com/operationspartanstork.