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U.S., Canadian Senior Doctors Discuss Medical Cooperation

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, July 31, 2015 — Defense Department senior medical leaders and Canada’s surgeon general discussed their nations’ bilateral military medical partnership and future strategic goals here yesterday.

Canadian Army Brig. Gen. Hugh C. MacKay, a physician and the Canadian Forces Health Services commander, spent the first part of his daylong visit in discussions with Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas J. Robb, a physician and director of the Defense Health Agency, at DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia.

Later at the Pentagon, MacKay met with Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

"Our work with the Canadian Forces over the years has been exemplary,” Woodson said, “and it is definitely in the interests of both of our nations to continue to work together to improve the overall health and state-of-readiness of our respective forces.”

"Working together in partnership with Brig. Gen. MacKay and the Canadian Forces Health Services, we will continue to strengthen our relationship to better prepare for any challenge which our two nations may face together," he added.

Partners Share a Long History

In an interview with DoD News, Robb and MacKay talked about their cooperative relationship, which extends into defense and security in addition to military medicine.

“We have fought side-by-side since day one. There is no lack of commitment,” Robb said.

MacKay said he had “tremendous interactions” with U.S. military medical professionals when he was chief of a multinational hospital in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, where 45 U.S. military medical personnel were assigned to him.

Shared Training Standards

U.S. and Canadian military medical personnel have trained together for years, by participating in four to five exercises a year, in addition to individual training.

Mackay pointed out that physician and Royal Canadian Navy Cmdr. Ian Torrie serves at DHA as the Canadian Forces liaison officer.

And many Canadian military medical professionals have trained at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Learning the Way Together

“These kinds of interactions we have in training programs build relationships that carry on as we go into operations together,” MacKay said. “[It] enables us to work on our interoperabilities and we often are side-by-side on deployments.”

More than a decade of practicing combat medicine together in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars helped familiarize both nations with medical and surgical procedures, and fine-tuned what became standardized medicine among various countries and all the services, he said.

“[The war in] Afghanistan was telling for us and [how] we worked together,” MacKay said, noting that the two nations are now partnering in operations in Kuwait, in addition to the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremists in Iraq and Syria.

The United States, Canada and Great Britain have committed to standard interoperability by becoming familiar with each nation’s aircraft and procedures for medical evacuations, Robb said.

Because of that familiarity, the “pool of capability for air medical evacuation then becomes a larger pool,” for future operations, he said.

Cooperation Extends Into Humanitarian Work

Yet, combat support between the two neighboring nations is just one area of cooperation, MacKay said, adding the humanitarian assistance element is another important element of the partnership. When Canada hosted the Olympic Games in 2010, U.S. military medical personnel were ready to respond with chemical, biological radiological and nuclear defense capability, in case the need arose.

“When there were hurricanes in the United States, we sent folks down [to conduct] air medical evacuations,” MacKay added. ”We really work closely domestically and abroad,” he said, noting that, where possible, Canada is involved in DoD’s Global Health Engagement exercises.

Robb said one of highlights of his military medical career is having strong coalition partners, such as the relationship with Canada’s medical forces.

“Medicine knows no cultural boundaries,” Robb said.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)