By Master Sgt. Sarah Mattison
Joint Force Headquarters, Vermont National Guard
U.S. Soldiers and Airmen with the Vermont National Guard traveled to Senegal to participate in military medical readiness exercise, MEDREX 19-2, held from April 7-19. This exercise was a joint-medical initiative that included active-duty, Army Reserve and National Guard service members working together with Senegalese counterparts to help build the readiness of our U.S. medical professionals.
In collaboration with the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, Vermont teamed-up with Senegal, with whom they have been partnered with since 2008. Being an innovative, cost-effective, and small footprint security cooperation program, SPP connects the National Guard with the militaries of partner-nations around the world.
Fifteen medical professionals with the Vermont National Guard, to include providers, public health nurses, combat medics, dentists, and dental technicians, traveled to Tambacounda, Senegal. They worked with both the civilian regional hospital and the military clinic in that region to treat the local population, to include a mix of military, law enforcement personnel, and civilians.
“Participating in exercises like this benefit the Vermont National Guard by placing them in a forward environment, in this case Senegal,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher Gookin, Vermont National Guard deputy state surgeon, and Officer in Charge of the Vermont Guardsmen for MEDREX 19-2. “It also provides those staff members the opportunity to work in more austere conditions, to push them outside of their comfort zone, and to build relationships with their Senegalese heath care partners.”
The Guardsmen were given opportunities to work rotations in the emergency room, on the maternity ward, and were even able to participate in a variety of surgical procedures. One public health service member was able to support a surgery in which she “breathed” for a two-day old infant that had an intestinal blockage for about 30 minutes, while on the operating table.
Over the nine-day period, the Soldiers and Airmen were directly involved with the care of 540 patients. They helped complete 25 surgeries in the operating room, assisted with two autopsies, and supported 89 surgical consultations. Support to several types of surgeries included performing an intestinal resection on a two-day old child, working on a total humeral fracture of an eight-year-old child, the removal of a “tennis ball-sized” kidney stone from a five-year-old child, performing emergency C-sections, follow-on care for wounds caused from both rocket-propelled grenades and bullets, the removal of a cystic kidney, and the emergency treatment of a stabbing victim.
“Working in a combined-joint-environment is beneficial because it allows us to see how the other services work respectively,” said Gookin. “It also provides an opportunity for personnel to meet each other, to work in a professional environment, and to solve problems together, depending on how the two services work through their military decision making processes, coupled with command guidance, best practices and competent medical authority.”
Functioning as the Vermont Air Guard’s Non-commissioned Officer in Charge for the exercise, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shannon Daniels, a public health technician with the 158th Fighter Wing’s Medical Group, assigned daily roles for all participants and interpreters, in order to cover all available
training opportunities for both the civilian and military clinics. She ensured daily, that all Vermont personnel had food, water, lodging, transportation, supplies, and communication capabilities.
“Working in a joint-environment was a positive experience,” said Daniels. “The ability for each participant to learn a differing approach or task based on experience, not necessarily rank or branch was very effective. From my perspective, the group worked very well together and maintained a positive attitude even in the austere working conditions.”
Daniels first became acquainted with the SPP mission by working on another medical mission with Vermont’s other state partner, North Macedonia. There, she worked on a panel with other professionals, who presented various aspects of medical processing. That assignment led to this opportunity to be part of the pre-deployment site survey to Tambacounda and Dakar.
“This mission was to build relationships with the civilian and military health teams, and the local population, while completing our readiness training side-by-side with our Senegalese partners,” said Daniels. “The most rewarding part of it for me was seeing my fellow Airmen’s success and enjoyment in working with the Senegalese, and seeing the real impact of their efforts.”
In addition to working in the clinics and hospital, Vermont Guardsmen brought along $15,000 in medical supplies, purchased with humanitarian civilian assistance funds, to utilize during the training event. They also exchanged best practices on the maintenance and calibration of the
equipment used during the exercise. Both the Guardsmen and Senegalese came away with a better understanding of maintaining water filtration systems, water distillation systems, ventilator and infusion pumps, blood chemistry analyzer, and air compressors.
“As Vermont continues into its tenth year of partnership with Senegal, planning and development of future medical initiatives and larger scale operations have been initiated for the next 3-5 years,” said Gookin. “In my opinion, one of the keys to success will be sustaining this level of momentum with clear intent, stakeholder engagements and open communication.”