SPERWAN GHAR, Afghanistan — Hundreds of medics have literally made their mark taking care of the sick and dying at the Canadian military’s Forward Operating Base Sperwan Ghar, in Afghanistan’s Panjwaii district.
Handprints of Canadian army medics adorn the wall of a one-time abandoned schoolhouse, which used to be an infirmary and is now used as the centre of housing and operations at the base.
It has become an ongoing memorial to the caregivers who have come and gone over the years.
Those who have been stationed there or even those who’ve stopped by on their way through have added their handprint to the wall, creating a visual record now referred to as “The Healing Hands of Sperwan Ghar.”
The handprints cover seven rotations of medics, adding up to a couple of hundred so far, said Warrant Officer Michael Crowe, the chief medic at the base.
“You put your hands up, you trace and then guys put up their own message,” he said. “Mine has a Canadian flag beside the handprint. People are still doing it when they come in.”
One of the hands proudly proclaimed the arrival of Cpl. (Nicholas) Beauchamp, 3R22. Underneath it was written in simple block letters — KIA (Killed in Action) — RIP, Nov. 16, 2007.
Beauchamp, a member of 5th Field Ambulance, was killed by an improvised explosive device just days after leaving his mark.
“It is a piece of history. They were great guys,” said Crowe.
“They didn’t know they wouldn’t be coming back. I know the one guy, he put his hand up and probably two or three days later he was killed. He got his hand up just in time.”
A colourful handpainted red sign with white lettering that used to grace the entrance to the former infirmary is now what the medics are talking about.
It reads “Good Medicine, Bad Places. Healing Hands of Sperwan Ghar”. It has been moved 50 metres away to the new trailer that provides medical care at the base. There are plans to move it even further.
“We’re thinking of sending it to the medical school where we all trained in Borden, Ontario,” said Crowe.
Even those medics who have not seen the collection of handprints are aware of the memorial.
Master Cpl. Matt Macaulay, stationed at nearby Ma’sum Gharm, is waiting for his opportunity to make his mark.
“If I get a chance to go there I will add mine to it definitely,” he said.