Guest Authors

Princess Salerno


Published: 22 March 2010
MAJ JF Sucher, MD FACS USAR MC Surgeon, 909th FST

Salerno child, Paktya Province, Afghanistan - 2003 Photo Courtesy of SFC Dan Biesiadecki.

The 909th FST saw many children during their first deployment of 2002-2003 in Salerno, Afghanistan, Paktya province, but one beautiful child gripped their hearts. Anyone who saw her then, or sees her image now can't help but feel driven to care for her, and the 909th did just that with all their heart. They waited on her hand and foot - A pattern that lead the FST to crown her "Princess Salerno".

The young princess had a broken leg. The local treatment was to smear egg-whites all over her body and wrap her leg in what appeared to be something much like a tiny picket fence. Such is the level of medical treatment in the deep rural areas of Afghanistan.

There are cities in Afghanistan with at least a modicum of adequate facilities to take care of the population. However, getting to the hospital from a remote village is a challenging prospect. Notwithstanding the fact that getting to a hospital does not mean that there will be anyone there that has the ability to treat you.

Orgune father with baby girl - Paktika Province, Afghanistan 2010.

Fast forward 7 years. Fortunately for the people in and around Orgune, Afghanistan, the hospital is unable to treat the problem, then they can send the patient to FOB Orgun-E. At present time there is a consistent flow of injured children. Most injuries are not battle related.

The first day I arrived a young baby was brought in to see us after a week with colic and vomiting. The parents went to the local bazaar and collected at least 7 different medicines ranging from simethicone to antibiotics to extremely dangerous medicines like phenobarbitol. What the baby had was an incarcerated inguinal hernia and needed emergency surgery. Fortunately, the incarcerated bowel was not permanently damaged and the baby recovered quite well. Without our intervention, the baby would have likely died in a matter of days.

Orgune boy - Paktika Province, Afghanistan 2010.

"They don't cry", LTC Randy Hoeppner, noted from his previous deployment in Iraq.  I see the same pattern continue with the children of Afghanistan. I don't understand why it is that these young boys and girls don't cry like American children would normally do. They seem to be too young for it to be a cultural influence. It is somewhat disturbing. This Orgune boy had a large cut to his left ankle, reportedly from a dog bite. It took him 5 days to make it to the hospital, who then sent him to us. I did not see any clear evidence consistent with a dog bite. There was a 4cm long laceration across his ankle. There is no way of telling what actually happened. We simply provided the best medical care that we could and hoped that they would return if there were any problems.

Medic from the 541st removes bandage from Orgune boy's ankle - Paktika Province, Afghanistan 2010.

There are many injuries these children are at risk for and it shows given that the average life expectancy for an Afghan is only 46 years. In the two weeks I spent at FOB Orgune-E, in addition to the above patients, we saw 2 children with femur fractures from reported falls, a child with a hand fracture, a baby with soft tissue infection and 2 children with burns. Burns are especially prominent in this population. The Afghans have bread ovens that are dug into the ground, and it is not uncommon for a child to fall into these pits.

Soviet PFM-1 antipersonnel mine.

Unfortunately, the children are also subject to injuries of war. There are still incidents of children being injured or killed due to mines. The Soviets had indiscriminately littered the Afghan countryside with a myriad of different mines. One of the most common is the PFM-1. This mine doesn't even look like a weapon. It is small and meant to be picked up and played with. You can fold one of its wings, clicking it back and forth, all the while not realizing that you're simply playing Russian roulette. Children are especially vulnerable to these mines and the FST at FOB Orgun-E has seen the impact they wreak on the children.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Ewing · 11 years ago
    That young girl has such beautiful eyes. Reminds me of a National Geographic Magazine cover from 1985. Rather startling for a brown eyed Afghan world.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      DL · 9 years ago
      [quote name="Bill Ewing"]That young girl has such beautiful eyes. Reminds me of a National Geographic Magazine cover from 1985. Rather startling for a brown eyed Afghan world.[/quote]

      In reply to your earler comment, Most afghans have blue, green, or some very light shade of eyes.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gerard · 11 years ago
    Thanks, Yon. Another good, inside news report.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Maddy · 11 years ago
    Obama should add these children to his Obamacare bill, so they can get free medical care ahead of all the illegal aliens it will cover in the USA. The American people never mind helping anyone that is truly in need, they just don't like to have healthcare shoved up their A__! The photos are usual Michael! It's a shame the innocent have to pay sucjh a price. They are the true meaning of "collateral damage!"
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 11 years ago
    We have it sooo good, yet we have people like the present liar in the White House and his ilk who wants to turn our country into an Afghanistan like third world cesspool! We must revolutionize the way we think about America and return to the American values that keep people like these doctors and nurses returning to a god awful place to bring some measure of what America really stands for and represents, to these poor inflicted children and their parents!
    To Maj Sucher, the other doctors, nurses and medical tech's I say, "Bless you all". Your job is the most important in not only bringing modern medical miracles to that retched place, but also educating the people around the world to realities of the American spirit and what it means to be a true American in every sense!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AmericanJarhead · 11 years ago
    Clearly these images and stories confirm that we're the Great Satin. Thanks for posting this wonderful story.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Salma · 11 years ago
    This proves to my country and all the other countries that the United States military is not there to rape,kill or hurt these young beautiful kids.I'm standing beside these men and women in uniform as long as the war goes on.
    Thank you Michael.
    This is another one of your always admiring reports.
    TO peace....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    6x6x4 · 11 years ago
    "radical Islamists ... indoctrinated via the madrassas"

    It's my understanding from reading elsewhere (LWJ, NYT) that the madrassas and their radical ideology are financed by Saudi Arabia. True?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bruce Hinton · 11 years ago
    Glad to know it is a medical treatment item; -now I can try to imagine her living in a world where women are valued as equals and allowed to reach their potential. Assuming, of course, she makes it to a place in this world with the freedom to achieve such goals.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Julieann Najar · 11 years ago
    unlike the crap movies about our great troops in Vietnam .they did a lot of great things for the people there. and I remember letters from soldiers telling the improvements they were doing,the schools,the medical. but you never heard about it here in
    the states. so where were the Micheal Yons from that era??????
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    What a shame those two use a positive post about our compassionate country to shove their wingnut BS up our a...s
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Spratico · 11 years ago
    Once again our military is proven to be some of the most compassionate and professional people ever. I always understood this, but it's nice to see examples of it.Thanks to the medical teams there for doing such a great job.

    And thanks, Michael, for bringing these stories to us. God bless America.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    William Scott, M.D. · 11 years ago
    Thanks Michael for the inspiration. We ( Americans ) are still a good and courageous people despite all the bad press and our economic mess.
    These acts of kindness will not be lost on the Afghans, they have long memories.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Adamson · 11 years ago
    This is what the USA is all about and deserves more coverage, thanks for the great post, it makes me prouder than ever to be a soldiers father and an American.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Adamson · 11 years ago
    We probably can thank one of Alexanders soldiers for the blue eyes.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brad Blauser · 11 years ago
    Right now, I'm on my way to a meeting with managers of an Iraqi factory who will soon start manufacturing the pediatric wheelchair I distribute to children with walking disabilities in Iraq. My intent is to have this Iraqi factory export the individual components of the wheelchair to Afghanistan, where I'll start an assembly operation to employ local Afghans, and provide high quality, rugged terrain pediatric wheelchairs for children who will never walk again. (Inshallah) ~ Brad @ Wheelchairs for Iraqi
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Radio Jihad · 11 years ago
    Mike I have to respectfully disagree with your final statement regarding "radical" Islam needing some multi-generational solution. The problem is Political Islam and Sharia Law. Islamists believe Allah transmitted the Qur'an to the angel Gabriel who transmitted the text directly without influence from man to Muhammad. All prior prophets, texts, laws, cultures, and societies have been corrupted by man and are not inspired by Allah, therefore Islam is superior to all else.

    Islamists believe the world is divided into Dar al-Harb (House of War) and Dar al-Islam (House of Islam) - there is no middle ground or respect for man made constructs, governments, or laws. To think the Afghan people will give up their Islam for our freedom, liberty, and democracy is wishful thinking and frankly an arrogant attitude - I know because I used to think the same way.

    For an individual Muslim to leave Islam for any faith or no faith at all is Apostasy to the State and Allah. That individual is viewed as a traitor to Islam and the State. The 4 top schools of Islamic jurisprudence both (Shia and Sunni) agree on at least one thing, the punishment for apostasy is death. If a Muslim blasphemes the prophet Muhammad the penalty is death. That leaves very few options for the Islamist individual especially when the Qur'an teaches the family, clan, or tribal community has an obligation to Allah to carry the death punishments out without fear of retribution.

    Now if you know of a way to change that legal, cultural, and governmental structure called Political Islam - I'd love to hear it. I don't think we would have beat the Nazis with your mindset as articulated in your last paragraph Mike.

    America Akbar
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Proud Military Mom · 11 years ago
    they are secular muslims in many parts of afghanistan and most Afghans don't wish to give up their Islamic beliefs -- they want people like the Taliban to stop politicizing it and twisting it to support the Taliban interpretation of Islam and S'haria law. and yours.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MH · 11 years ago
    The article is not by Mr. Yon, but a guest wroter. Check the byline.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Andrew Blair · 11 years ago
    Mr. Yon,

    Thank you for providing this article, and giving an articulate service member a voice. Your perspective is incredible, but there is so much more to tell than one man possibly can. Thank you, and especially MAJ Sucher.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Louise · 11 years ago
    Regarding the blue eyes, since the original Aryans were from modern day Iran, it shouldn't be surprising that some of that genetic stuff is still expressed in that part of the world.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JF Sucher, MD FACS · 11 years ago
    America Akbar,

    The comments in the article are all mine, not Michael's. They are simply and solely my personal opinions. I have great respect for all religions, including that of Islam. I believe that I am trying my best to separate "radical" Islam that infiltrated Afghanistan during the 1980s from "peaceful" Islam. I draw my opinions from reading "Afghanistan" by Stephen Tanner, "In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russion and American Occupation" by David Lyon and "Ghost Wars" by Steve Coll.


    JF Sucher
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Beckstead · 11 years ago
    Thank you very much for this article Mr. Yon and Mr (Dr?) Sucher. It really shows the realities of what Afghanistan and Iraq are all about. Only those who have been there and seen it first hand can truly understand. I spent many, many hours working at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad Air Base in 2008 and saw many civilians come through with everything from massive head trauma due to falling from a moving vehicle, to an 8-year old boy who was used for sniper practice by an insurgent, and a 17-year old girl who was shot by one of the local bad guys. Helping to place them in body bags is something that I will never, ever forget.

    Thanks for the service that you are providing with getting these great articles out to the public!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Beckstead · 11 years ago
    In 2009, a very good book titled "The Great Gamble" was published that examines the Soviet-Afghan war. I highly recommend it along with the two listed above. But, in my professional opinion, Tanner's book should be thrown out when you get to the last chapter (or at least tear out the last chapter and throw it away). The earlier chapters give a very good understanding on how Afghanistan has been conquered over and over for the past several millenia.

    People keep comparing the current war in Afghanistan with Alexander the Great, and the British Empire when they tried to conquer and occupy Afghanistan. This is a poor comparison since the US has no intentions of conquering nor occupying the country.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joseph Meissner · 11 years ago
    Thanks, Mike, for all of this. It helps us understand. The point is the children. Just like in Viet Nam, it was the children. (I was privileged to be a member of 5th Special Forces in Viet Nam and I have published a book, "The Green Berets and Their Victories.") Take care. Keep writing. I plan to forward your materials to some veteran friends. I will also be sending some money. Keep up your great reporting.
    Joseph Patrick Meissner at
  • This commment is unpublished.
    A Brit. · 11 years ago
    This is very OT, for which I apologise in advance. I do not know if there is any MSM coverage in the US concerning your government's statement on the Falklands ? Do you understand the magnitude of this insult ? If this is the way you treat your most loyal military allies, then ....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Radio Jihad · 11 years ago
    JF - you said you are only trying to separate "Radical" Islam from "Peaceful" Islam. In order to do that you will have to remove the "Radical" verses in the Qur'an that instruct good Muslims to wage Jihad and yes terror against non-Muslims. The penalty in Islam for talking about removing anything from the Qur'an is called Blasphemy and makes that brave individual a traitor to Islam. That is risky business for the lone Muslim reformer.

    In today paper there is a story about Karzai meeting with the Taliban as a step toward "national reconciliation" of the two groups in Afghanistan. The story goes on to say Karzai's plan is to provide economic incentives to lure low to mid-level Taliban off the battlefield. Historically buying off your enemy from the bottom up has not been successful. Especially when we just read about the horrific medical care Afghani children from their government infrastructure tasked with providing those services.

    JF - This discussion has drifted off point from the original story - however very interesting and I would love to continue the conversation with you and anyone else from this board.

    Go to and click on the comment section

    America Akbar
  • This commment is unpublished.
    epador · 11 years ago
    "There is no way of knowing what has become of her over the ensuing 7 years. The team would rather just simply think of her just as she remains in these photos. A beautiful, innocent, princess child."

    Unfortunately, where girls become chattel before they are women, the future for most any girl in rural Afghanistan remains bleak.

    Also, note that there is danger in the admission into a base, and transporting around of "family members." At least some of them are there to gather intelligence. Its an old ruse they've used for decades. Find a sick or crippled child and bundle them off with a elder Taliban to a base's front door.

    Our charity, seen as a weakness by many, is being used against us.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Minen · 11 years ago
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thomas · 11 years ago
    During the 1980s and early 1990s, DoD operated regular medevac flights for wounded Afghan civilians, taking from Pakistan to Europe and the US for reconstructive surgery. Many were victims of mines and Soviet anti-personnel devices -- and of those we brought out in medevacs, there were always the children. I personally flew 25 of those missions as Mission Director during my time at OSD -- landing after midnight and leaving before dawn.

    It was really a powerful moment for me to see Princess Salerno with a stuffed animal -- it brought back a lot of memories, though one not so good.

    During my time flying missions, from the height of the Soviet war era and into the draw down afterward, we had to advise our USAF Aeromedical Squadron nurses against offering stuffed animals to the children on flights. In the most poignant testimony of the brutality of the Soviets, the very sight of a stuffed animal could create a near riot on a medevac flight. The Soviets would airdrop stuffed animals loaded with bombs on fields in the rural areas and many of the children lost both hands when they picked up a cuddly toy like that.

    Today, as shown in the eyes of Princess Salerno, the stuffed animal is no longer a weapon of war and terror. With the fading of that memory among Afghans, and the passing of the Soviet Union into the darkest shadows of history, the world is a better place.

    And for those who wish to compare the US and ISAF forces with the Soviets, I can only say this -- you know nothing of history. Afghanistan is and will be a better place because of the hard work and sacrifices of America and Europe, through ISAF. It will take time, but the final chapters of the history of this war will be something about which we can all be proud.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dorothy Roush · 11 years ago
    God Bless the children and those who have sacrificed so much in theses troubled times as well as times past, for they all will see Gods Graces.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve H · 11 years ago
    OT - If I'd not read this piece this morning, I would not have known what you were talking about.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve H · 11 years ago
    Sorry for the multiple posts but the first did not carry the link.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nasrullah James · 9 years ago
    the dog bite guys is my brother , i just want to tell you thanks for all things that you did with my brother (Rahmatullah),my name is Nasrullah Ayoubi i am an interpreter with shkin OGA my call sign is there James,if you guys need any kind of help that i can do i am ready for that, once again thank you.

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