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Joint Medical Course Crosses Service, Cultural Divide

By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas, Sept. 1, 2005 – The Defense Medical Readiness Training Institute here offered a medical readiness course in August that crossed service boundaries and international borders.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Jamie Colby, a Fox news reporter, interviews Navy Cmdr. David Tarantino with help from Army Sgt. Michael Hammer, Army Medical Department TV broadcaster, during a media training exercise at the Joint Operations Medical Managers Course. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Rob Murphy

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Seventy-five officers traveled to San Antonio from installations throughout the world for the weeklong Joint Operations Medical Managers Course. The semiannual training equips senior medical officers with the skills they need to lead a joint task force surgeons’ cell during war or humanitarian operations.

While the bulk of attendees were from the U.S. uniformed services, a handful of officers brought an international flavor to the event, including three Germans, two Australians, three Canadians, and one Afghan, the first doctor from Afghanistan to attend the course.

Col. Alan Moloff, the institute’s commander, likened the course to a stew. “To make a dish, you need a certain amount of each ingredient, which is not unlike military operations,” he said. “We need surgeons, blood, medical logistics, security and so on. You have a recipe for success if you know how much of each ingredient you need.”

Moloff recalled a deployment to Albania in 1999, in which he learned first hand about the importance of “ingredients.”

“When you lead a unit, even in the medical field, you have to know a little about everything,” he said. “When I was deployed to Albania, we had a water flooding problem, and I had to know who to turn to for help. Medical commanders don’t just treat patients, they have to think about support facilities, security, supplies and so on. You may not know what to do but, in this course, you learn what questions to ask.”

During hour-long seminars, the course touched on every aspect of a joint medical command pre-deployment and deployment, to include downrange crisis-action planning, the joint blood program, service-specific medical capabilities, public health, combat stress, trauma systems, media relations and civil affairs. The presentations were wrapped up each day with a tabletop exercise, in which the officers put their newfound knowledge to the test. While all of the information was pertinent, the most vital lessons taught, Moloff said, were those on joint service operations.

“Each service trains their people in a different way, yet we fight together,” he said. “In a stateside clinic, Air Force treats Air Force and Army treats Army. But, when you reach a field hospital, it becomes a joint environment. You treat people regardless of their uniform or their nationality. You have to be aware of what each service has to offer to work together effectively.”

To help familiarize the officers with joint operations, military speakers described their services’ capabilities, which offered invaluable knowledge, students said.

“I’ll definitely walk away with a better understanding of joint capabilities,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeannie Comlish, chief nurse of the hospital ship USNS Mercy, homeported in San Diego. “The instructors bring a lot of expertise to the table; they are a very impressive group.”

During tsunami-relief efforts since almost day one, Comlish gained extensive knowledge of medical practices in humanitarian missions, but said the knowledge gained at the course “will augment my personal experience.”

Lt. Col. Kimberly Smith, from the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, at Fort Dietrich, Md., was more on a fact-finding mission as she looked for innovative ideas from other services. “I was looking for capabilities the Army could ‘borrow,’” she said.

Smith said she takes these ideas to develop products that will better meet medical needs in the field. “It’s nice to know we’re not alone out there,” she said. “There are other nations with a wealth of knowledge we can put to good use.”

Afghan Capt. Abdul Ateef Ghafoor, a general physician from the Kabul military training center hospital in Afghanistan, said he will use the knowledge he gained for the benefit of others back home.

“I will bring back many new ideas,” he said. “I found out about how a joint environment works. I had no idea about joint services. I also learned how to make a plan for the battlefield. This is a great exchange of ideas.”

The course, which started in the late 1980s, has evolved in its topics and speakers in recent years to keep pace with an increasingly sophisticated global audience and ever-changing world events, Moloff said. The ultimate goal is to improve training to save lives.

“The survival rate in war is the best in history,” Moloff said. “More than 90 percent of the wounded from this war will live. But with that rate comes a rising expectation of medical care.

“The true mark of success for this course and others offered by DMRTI,” he added, “will be when we see how many servicemembers we keep alive and how many families don’t have to bury their sons and daughters.”

(Elaine Wilson works in the Fort Sam Houston Public Information Office.)

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