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Maryland Guard Takes Part in Africa Command Exercise

By Army Capt. Rick Breitenfeldt
American Forces Press Service

BALTIMORE, Nov. 25, 2008 – For the first time since U.S. Africa Command stood up Oct. 1, the National Guard has deployed citizen-soldiers to an African nation to provide desperately needed medical care.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Staff Sgt. Deshanna Taylor, a medic with the Maryland National Guard medical detachment, works on an infected foot during Flintlock 09, a 14-nation training exercise in support of U.S. Africa Command, which concluded Nov. 20, 2008. U.S. Army photo

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

The two-week deployment to Senegal of 18 Maryland National Guard doctors, dentists and other medical professionals was in support of a 14-nation exercise known as Flintlock 09, which concluded Nov. 20.

The Maryland Guard medical team based at Camp Fretterd in Reisterstown, Md., was led by Army Col. (Dr.) John V. Gladden, the state surgeon, who said this type of training mission is exactly what the Guard needs to be doing.

“It teaches us how to do things outside our specialty [and] how to work together,” Gladden said about his team, which treated nearly 1,600 Senegalese who visited the makeshift clinic with a variety of medical and dental issues.

Gladden, who has worked in eight previous medical exercises in his career, said the working and living conditions in Africa were the most austere he had ever seen, but that his fellow citizen-soldiers were professionals under the toughest of circumstances.

“Nobody got flustered,” he said. “We knew there were limitations on what we could do to treat some of these patients, but nobody dwelled on this being a less-than-perfect outcome.”

The two-week exercise was developed as a joint multinational exercise to improve information sharing at the operational and tactical levels across the Saharan region while fostering increased collaboration and coordination.

“This was a perfect fit,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth McGill, the operations sergeant for the Maryland Guard medical detachment who organized the training mission.

“We had the professional talent, and they had everything we needed to do the job. This was the opportunity to take a portion of our staff [and] send them to a faraway land to do wonderful things and get more medical experience. Having an opportunity like this, even in the civilian world, is rare.”

More than 200 people participated in Flintlock, a part of Africom’s Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara, which provides military support to State Department programs that aim to enhance regional security in Africa by also addressing economic and social development, disaster preparedness, medical emergencies and other issues.

Although this was the first such mission for the National Guard to an African country, the Guard has a long-standing State Partnership Program that was designed to build relationships with emerging democracies by pairing states and U.S. territories with more than 59 countries around the world.

“This is a terrific opportunity for our soldiers to take their military and civilian skills and apply them in a real-world training environment, while at the same time helping the people of the republic of Senegal,” said Army Brig. Gen. Alberto Jimenez, commander of the Maryland Army National Guard. “This exercise is a continuation of the ongoing efforts by the Maryland National Guard in support of emerging democracies in countries like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, and now, Senegal.”

Former Maryland assistant adjutant general Army Maj. Gen. Edward Leacock, now deputy director of Africom’s intelligence and knowledge development division, said the exercise “set a strong precedent for future U.S. Africa Command engagements where the U.S. military will actively seek the partnership of stakeholders to meet common challenges.”

McGill said Gladden and his medical team’s mission didn’t end when the last patient left the clinic. The Guard team left behind all excess medical supplies and equipment for future use by the Senegalese government.

(Army Capt. Rick Breitenfeldt serves with the Maryland National Guard.)

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