Pacom Supports Partnership, Stability Through Health Engagements
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
CAMP SMITH, Hawaii, Aug. 10, 2012 U.S. Pacific Command is helping to build stability and security in the Asia-Pacific one inoculation, one cataract surgery and one first-responder training class at a time.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Sean Stroup, wearing white mask, and Vietnamese doctors perform surgery on a Vietnamese patient at Friendship Hospital during a Pacific Partnership 2012 subject matter expert exchange in Vinh City, Vietnam, July 19, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Kristopher Radder
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That’s the way Navy Rear Adm. Raquel Cruz Bono, the command’s top surgeon, views the impact of the full array of medical outreach activities Pacom and its Army, Navy and Air Force components conduct across its area of responsibility.
Bono sees security as among the essential components of the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And at its very base are the essentials of life: food, clothing, shelter -- and health.
“The medical element is so critical,” she told American Forces Press Service at her headquarters here. “Without health, it is difficult to advance, not only your own personal goals and objectives, but it is really hard to participate in your country’s national goals and objectives.”
At a time of huge economic growth across the Asia-Pacific -- an area spanning half the globe -- Bono is concerned that the region’s health infrastructure hasn’t always kept up.
“Growth doesn’t necessarily equate to development,” she said. “So, perhaps the No. 1 challenge for a lot of the countries in the AOR is being able to develop that health infrastructure -- things like emergency medical response, blood banking and having a medical system that supports some of the disease burden that a country may be experiencing.”
Pacom has a long history of medical support across the region and a vast portfolio of medical-related activities.
The U.S. hospital ship USNS Mercy is three months into the Pacific Partnership mission, U.S. Pacific Fleet’s largest annual humanitarian and civic-action mission. It includes engagements in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, all conducted by military and civilian medical and dental professionals, veterinarians, and engineering personnel from the United States and 11 other countries, as well as nongovernmental and international agencies.
Operation Pacific Angel is another recurring Pacom-sponsored joint, combined humanitarian assistance mission. Led by Pacific Air Forces, it includes medical, dental, optometry, veterinary and engineering programs, as well as subject matter experts to provide guidance on infection control and basic life support procedures.
While offering vital medical services, these and other, smaller-scale medical outreach programs help build capacity within host nations’ medical systems, Bono said.
“You have to include health at every turn if you really want to be able to partner in a meaningful way,” she said. “We are building relationships with the military medical departments in other countries in our AOR, and looking for opportunities, through their eyes, of where we can come in and partner with them and either help bridge some of the things that they are trying to do … or be able to collaborate with them and their local health officials to augment …or build up their capability.”
Laos is one of the success stories, she said. Through a combination of equipment provided through the foreign military sales program and training support, Pacom helped the Laotian government establish a blood donation center -- with a second one planned in another province -- and develop its blood bank system.
“Over the course of just a few years, they have advanced their expertise [and] have increased the number of units of blood that they collect, which can better support the population there,” Bono said. “This is a great example of how we can go in, develop a relationship, determine what the needs are of the population, and then contribute to supporting that population by bringing in expertise and helping the local health community.”
These exchanges, she said, also help build a foundation for a faster, better-coordinated response in the event of a natural disaster.
“When we look at our health engagements, we want to be sure we are not only helping the development of health infrastructure and capability and capacity in the area,” Bono said, “but also to help build resilience so that, in the event of a natural disaster or any other kind of catastrophic event, that we assisted a country in its ability to respond and recover more quickly.”
Sitting in the middle of the earthquake-prone “Ring of Fire,” Pacom is no stranger to natural disasters and frequently plays a role in humanitarian assistance and disaster responses.
During Operation Tomodachi, triggered by the earthquake, tsunami and radiological disaster that devastated Japan in March 2011, Pacom and its service components provided help ranging from hands-on medical care to logistical support to advisory and consequence-management assistance.
“We had access to a broad range of expertise and were able to advise and support, and also to be able to help guide the policymaking [decisions],” Bono said. “But our primary role here at Pacom was to make sure we were coordinating a response and that we were managing the consequences in being able to project what needed to happen.”
Preparing for the next natural disaster -- which officials here agree is a matter of when, not if -- is a top priority across Pacom. For Bono, that means being ready to provide a medical response.
“The military has had a very long history of being able to respond in the event of a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief event,” she said. “Our challenge is to be able to respond very quickly to the call when that occurs.”
The medical staff regularly trains, both within the command and with partners and allies, to keep their disaster-response skills high.
For example, this year’s Rim of the Pacific, the world’s largest, multinational maritime exercise, included the first humanitarian and disaster relief scenario, including a mass casualty drill.
Airmen based at Yokota Air Base, Japan, recently completed aeromedical evacuation training, practicing the techniques of loading patients onto litters, moving them on and off helicopters and providing in-flight patient care.
Bono said she’s excited that Pacom’s “rebalance” in the region will enhance its ability to train with partner nations and build capability and relationships that cross interagency and international lines.
Doing so, she said, will increase opportunities for the U.S. military to collaborate with partner nations and help them achieve their health-related priorities.
“By strengthening their own domestic agenda, we often are able to contribute to their own economic and domestic stability,” she said. “That, in turn, allows them to participate with us in ensuring regional stability.
“And that is really what will then help us ensure that we have an AOR that is stable, that is prosperous and that continues to grow -- and is a real partner in the globalization of the economy and other efforts, worldwide.”