ALO KHEYL, Afghanistan — The women, wrapped in scarves or covered by light blue burqas, shouted, pushed and shoved their way toward the temporary pharmacy window. No one wanted to be left out.
But less than three hours after S.C. National Guard soldiers opened a medical aid station here Thursday, they were forced to shut it down.
The crush of patients had exhausted the supply of drugs.
Before that happened, however, about 690 men, women and children had seen a doctor for a variety of maladies - from scarlet fever to high blood pressure.
About 250 people were still in line when the doors closed. Still, the mission was a success, said Maj. Jeff Kerby, a physician's assistant. "We met some important medical needs."
Offering medical aid is part of the 218th Brigade Combat Team's strategy to build good relations with villages near its Camp Phoenix headquarters.
In return, the Guard hopes area citizens will tip off soldiers about Taliban activity that threatens U.S. and NATO installations in the Kabul area. For example, commanders think several rockets launched against coalition forces in the past six weeks have come from Alo Kheyl.
Najibullah Howtak, the local business owner who hosted Thursday's aid mission at his home, said it was a win-win situation for his neighbors and the U.S. military.
"My people are very happy to see a doctor, and we're supposed to help the military," Howtak said. "They are our guests and are here to help our country."
People started lining up as soon as the convoy of S.C. National Guard vehicles rolled into the village.
Adhering to Muslim custom, men and women were sent to different entrances at the temporary aid station.
Afghan physicians, backed up by a U.S. doctor, examined the villagers. In most cases, the doctors prescribed antibiotics, painkillers and muscle relaxants. Ibuprofen also was a popular remedy.
Not everyone, though, could be taken care of at the aid station. One girl, for example, had scarlet fever and needed more advanced treatment elsewhere.
Then there was the 7-year-old boy who came in to get a dressing over his left ear changed. When Kerby peeled away the bandage, he found blood oozing from the boy's ear and what appeared to be small tumors below the lobe.
Through an interpreter, Kerby told the boy that he needed to see a specialist at CURE International, a charity-run hospital in downtown Kabul. To make sure the boy could get there, Kerby gave him $20 to cover cab fare.
As the morning wore on, it became apparent demand was going to outstrip the supply of medications. Sensing that, the Afghan women grew more assertive, pushing toward the makeshift pharmacy's window. Soldiers strained to keep the women in line, trying to get them to stand against a wall and wait their turn.
"People know we're limited," said Lt. Col. Bob Bradshaw, the Guard unit's commander. "That's why there's such a big push to be first. They know we're going to run out."
One reason medications are limited is money to buy them comes from private donations, not from the U.S. government.
Still, the private money goes a long way. Capt. David Brooks of Cheraw said he bought enough medication for 600 people with $1,000.
To help pay for future aid missions, the unit plans to launch a Web site called Afghan Children Relief Fund. The site will have information for would-be donors, said Capt. Mike Dovey.
Now, the Guard unit is collecting money through its Mount Pleasant, S.C., armory.
Money raised by the relief fund will pay for a variety of children's needs, from medications to clothes, Dovey added.