Dr. Woo's legacy of hope lives on

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
With clenched fists and a heart full of anger, I read a breaking Associated Press story today about a woman I worked closely with on a humanitarian initiative a few months back, a doctor senselessly gunned down by terrorist insurgents.

The attack happened after her team provided previously-unavailable eye treatment and other health care in remote Northern Afghanistan villages.

Dr. Karen Woo was a British medical doctor, an emerging friend of mine, and perhaps a real-life angel. Only a mind full of expletives can describe my feeling for the Taliban.

Ironically, balancing my obvious detest for those who continue to tear down the walls of progress good people persistently erect, Karen would oppose me calling them those names as she saw hope in places my heart witnessed gloom.

That was the kind-hearted and selfless Doctor Woo I knew and worked with on an initiative she dreamed up, to move donated medical supplies from a London warehouse to Kabul using RAF Mildenhall-based or transient aircraft.

Two days before she set off to Afghanistan, I invited Karen and a number of her colleagues to Mildenhall and showed them around base. They toured our cargo area and mobility line, and set off back to London with high hopes that the Denton Amendment paperwork we were to initiate together would be successful, and the essential medical supplies could then be delivered.

Karen and I continued to work on her initiative while she was in Kabul. With each e-mail or conversation, she seemed very excited to be in Afghanistan, and helping its impoverished people. She truly was a good person, which is what's making her death so hard for me to accept.

Rest assured, she's not the first friend of mine killed in that country. In fact, you could say that I truly know the pain of losing friends to anti-Afghan forces.

But this was different.

These terrorists didn't just kill another friend, they killed a doctor (actually a medical team of 10 civilians, including six Americans) who didn't even wear a uniform remotely similar to mine or carry a rifle. Her only threat was to provide kindness and medical care.

The day of the slayings, AP reported that a Taliban spokesman said they killed the 10-person team because they were "spying for the Americans" and "preaching Christianity."

But, according to CBS, the team Doctor Woo worked for (the International Assistance Mission), "is registered as a nonprofit Christian organization but does not proselytize."

CNN also quoted that "Hans Ronnlund, the assistant to the executive director of the mission group, denied statements by the Taliban that the medical staff was carrying Bibles. Ronnlund said the International Assistance Mission is a humanitarian development organization formed by various Christian groups, but said medical staffers do not carry Bibles."

In reality, my friend and the other nine members of the medical team were returning to Kabul after trekking with packhorses to villages so remote that vehicles couldn't make the journey. It was in those villages the team cared for patients who had no prior access to medical care.

For that, they were needlessly killed.

Where do you compartmentalize that?

Where in your brain can you file that away as a part of this ongoing conflict?

You can't.

These were doctors - not soldiers. These were civilians who put themselves in harm's way to aid the people of Afghanistan in ways their own people could not.

In a few months I'll, once again, file back into the ranks with my brothers and sisters fighting in Afghanistan. I hope Karen's kindness guides my journey.

As for now, I'm full of rage. But I know she wouldn't want me to feel that way. I will try my best to follow her lead.

May you rest in peace Doctor Karen Woo.

(Editor's note: The contents of this story are not necessarily the official views of, or endorsed by, the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense or the Department of the Air Force.)