The Power of Navy Medicine
by David Bennett, Naval Medical Forces Pacific
November 6, 2021
Naval Medical Forces Pacific (NMFP) has answered the call.
As Navy Medicine’s regional command responsible for medical personnel working in 10 military hospitals from San Diego to Okinawa, and eight medical research and development commands, NMFP’s military and civilian staff have been at the forefront in support of Navy and Marine Corps units throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, they have responded directly to numerous missions in support of the U.S. government’s response to assist local community hospitals with their influx of COVID-19 patients and medical support inside the United States for Afghan personnel under Operation Allies Welcome (OAW).
As a ready medical force, Navy Medicine’s mission is to provide well-trained medical experts, operating as high performance teams to project medical power in support of Naval superiority.
“The foundation of Navy Medicine is using the tremendous power of our Sailors and civilian personnel to ensure maritime superiority. Over the nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, this power has also delivered over 625,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in an amazing response to keep our Sailors and Marines healthy so they can meet their operational missions. We have also excelled in deploying medical teams around the country in support of multiple missions at the request of the Federal government,” said Rear Adm. Tim Weber, Commander, NMFP.
In August 2021, NMFP began coordinating the deployment of 200 Sailors, from approximately six west-coast Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Commands, in response to national and international issues vital to the health and safety of our forces, our country and our international partners. Navy medical forces are supporting U.S. government agencies with the Afghanistan evacuation under Operation Allies Welcome (OAW) and COVID-19 care at U.S. civilian hospitals.
On July 14, 2021 the President of the United States announced the launch of Operation Allies Response [now referred to as OAW] to support the relocation of eligible Afghan nationals and their families. NMFP was called to provide medical support that included: immunizations, inoculations and general public health services.
Naval medical staff, while holding specialized skillsets, can be called to serve in various roles based on their leadership and past deployments. Capt. Jerome Ragadio, dental officer from Naval Medical Readiness Training Command Camp Pendleton, explained how he was mobilized in his role in support of OAW.
“On a Tuesday I received a phone call from Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Reid, the Joint Regional Medical Planning Officer, who informed me that I would be leaving that Thursday to help screen Afghanistan personnel coming into the United States.” NMFP’s Current and Future Operations department received their tasking from Navy Medicine’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and then activated personnel who are assigned to expeditionary medical force teams to support missions like OAW. “Lieutenant Commander Reid, from NORHTCOM [United States Northern Command] informed me I would be in charge of the medical screening process for Afghanistan personnel here at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JB MDL),” explained Ragadio via email. “I am a general dentist by trade, but I am primarily here as the Medical Reception Team leader overseeing the processing and services administered for the mission. My leadership skills, and previous experience working with the joint task force and my medical background have helped tremendously to communicate to leadership the needs of my team and our patients.”
Navy’s expeditionary medical team at JB MDL, New Jersey, daily screen 250 personnel. They continue to provide services to the more than 9,000 Afghan evacuees in an operation that continue around the clock, according to Capt. Spencer Schoen, Director of Naval Medical Forces Pacific Current and Future Operations. The medical screening process is one of the crucial first steps in ensuring the safety and health of Afghan personnel entering the United States. Naval Medical Forces Pacific has deployed a similar team to Camp Atterbury, Indiana.
“We are doing what we have to do. Almost all Afghan personnel coming over has at least one member of the family or group, to use a phrase we use in the military, who is the sponsor. The sponsor, in many cases, has served our country and deserve our thanks,” explained Schoen. “When you get to be part of this mission, to help get them the resources and medical care they need, that is immensely rewarding, because of what they did for our troops over there, the danger they put themselves in and their families. We owe it to protect them and hopefully help them into a better life,” stated Schoen.
Naval Medical Forces Pacific have also been providing an active duty team of nurses, providers and hospital corpsmen to Ozark, Alabama, as part of a continued Department of Defense COVID-19 response operations in conjunction with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to offer support in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the United States.
“We’re part of DoD’s ongoing COVID-19 operations to support FEMA and the state of Alabama,” said Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Rutledge, the officer in charge of Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Unit Everett who deployed to Ozark, Alabama. “We’re all proud to be part of the whole-of-government response and increase the medical capacity to care for COVID-19 patients that have taxed local community assets.”
According to local reports, hospitals throughout southwest Alabama were trying to provide care for patients beyond normal intensive care unit capacity. Just two days before the Navy medicine team arrived, approximately 2,775 new patients were admitted for care across the state of Alabama. Many of these hospitalizations were attributed to the Delta variant of the virus.
Planning for medical responses such as those to JB MDL, New Jersey and Ozark, Alabama, may normally take several weeks, but due to the shifting nature of COVID-19 and the evacuation timeline from Afghanistan, preparation was done in hours and days.
“The specific teams we built, we built from across the region. As a military organization our teams are expected to have a high level of readiness to include immunizations, training and have robust set of skill sets. As a military organization we have the logistical capabilities to get people to the site quickly and execute the mission,” explained Schoen.
Weber affirmed that Navy Medicine’s ability to rapidly deploy while providing a robust set of capabilities has always been crucial to the operational readiness for supporting the warfighter abroad, as well as responding to national missions.
“The flexibility and adaptability of our medical forces allow us to bring a wide range of skills tailored to the requirements at that location, including trauma surgery, mental health, public health, and essential medical screening services. The ability of our NMFP teams to project the power of Navy Medicine anytime, anywhere is what makes me so proud. Time and time again we provide a coordinated medical response and ensure our forces can do what they need to do to protect the interests and security of our nation,” shared Weber.
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