From Yoakum to Kabul: Chief teaches surgery to Afghans
By BY KAYLA BELL - KBELL@VICAD.COM
Sept. 26, 2011 at 4:26 a.m.
Each day he goes to work, Thomas Roznovsky suits up in full gear, a pistol on his hip, rifle on his back, and hikes a mile to the National Military Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan.
"This is what we fight for - freedom - to be able to walk through the streets without holding a gun," Roznovsky said in a telephone interview days after insurgents attacked the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
While the violence swelled in Kabul, Roznovsky's parents, Jimmie and Lorene, tried to avoid news reports from their home near Ganado, their faith resting in God and their son's abilities.
Roznovsky, 40, grew up in Yoakum and has served more than 16 years in the Navy, the most recent nine months being spent in Kabul. From more than 7,500 miles away, Roznovsky attributed his latest accomplishment - his promotion to chief petty officer - to his Crossroads area upbringing.
"I took all of those life lessons and everything my parents taught me throughout the years - always be polite to people, it's OK to hug a man," he said. "I guess through my loving parents and my upbringing, it really helped here, and we built really amazing relationships with the Afghans."
The training he received while in the Navy also played no small part in his progression through the ranks. Roznovsky has studied everywhere from the City College of Chicago while stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Barry University in Miami.
Along the way he's picked up several degrees, including associate of arts, healthcare management, dental technician and registered nursing degrees.
Now, he teaches Afghan medics everything there is to know about surgery, from sterilizing equipment to basic hand washing.
"We started from scratch because they're way behind," he said. "This is the first time they have sterile equipment to use in the OR, which is a huge thing."
Roznovsky said he's been able to see firsthand the gaps in medical training that result after a nation is at war for 30 years.
"The people that I'm helping have been at war since they were born. And the whole world is here to help them," he said.
As an operating room mentor for the medical embedded training team, Roznovsky works alongside all branches of the U.S. armed forces, as well as militaries from France, Greece and Canada. No one in the hospital was injured during the Sept. 13 attack on the embassy, but all employees were on high alert, rotating shifts to protect their operation.
Their main objective, Roznovsky said, is to work together with the people of Afghanistan in the hopes its citizens will be able to maintain a stable environment.
"I get to see their kids every day and get to treat their brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers," Roznovsky said. "I really believe that what we're doing here is for the Afghan people so that they can, maybe one day, live like we do."
Beyond ensuring their physical well-being, Roznovsky said he and the troops are building relationships with the Afghan people. One mother even allowed the hospital staff to name her baby. They decided on Hope.
"Basic things like taking the time to learn the language and converse with them means a world of difference," he said. "It's the little things that mean so much, like sitting down and having chai."
Roznovsky's mother, who sends balloons and lollipops for the troops to give away to Afghan children, said her son's job in Kabul is a good fit for the former Catholic school boy.
"He believes in doing the right thing, and if it means helping the people in Afghanistan get their freedoms, then that's something ... he would have total dedication to," his mom said.
Roznovsky's mother didn't have to say she was proud of her son. Her voice gushed with anticipation and delight, and her first words were that her son is coming home.
Any day now, Roznovsky will be at his parent's house for the first time in a year, bringing along his wife, Tammy, and their son, Asher, who will turn 1 on Friday.
The whole family looks forward to the R&R and spending a little time together before their chief petty officer leaves again.
Roznovsky has volunteered for another nine months of duty in Afghanistan.
"You miss your family. But when you see a baby born here, and you get asked to name their child, it's unbelievable. It puts me in tears, all the things we're doing here," he said. "I love my job, and I love being a protector of freedom for all of you guys who are there stateside ... somebody's gotta be out here doing the thing."