Air Guard pumps medical experience into heart of Africa
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. John Orrell)
KINSASHA, Democratic Republic of the Congo (4/27/11) - The National Guard is bringing a critical depth of experience and demonstrating its ability to be a seamless player as part of Total Force during the MEDLITE 11 exercise here, the director of operations for MEDLITE 11 said Tuesday.
"MEDLITE is showing that we can execute our mission, integrate seamlessly and do it cost effectively," said Air Force Lt. Col. Matt Peterson, the director of operations for the Minnesota Air National Guard's 109th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
The multinational exercise - which has active duty Airmen and Air National Guard members from around the country working to improve the readiness of both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and U.S. Air Force medical personnel – is a stepping stone for a country that is just beginning to develop their program.
The Air National Guard is an ideal participant for this exercise due to the sheer percentage of the mission they are tasked with, Peterson said.
"There are 32 aeromedical evacuation squadrons out there, four of which are active duty and 28 of which are Guard and Reserve," he said "Ninety percent of the force roughly is Guard and Reserve."
"We're out there executing the mission side by side every day," Peterson said.
Guard members also bring the years of experience they have both in their military and in their civilian jobs.
"Some of these people here have 15 or 20 years of experience in aeromedical evacuation," he said. "They bring a pretty in-depth amount of experience with often multiple deployments."
That real-world experience is exactly what they are bringing to the Congolese during this training mission, and that expertise is going to add to the level of training they receive, Peterson said.
Air Force Lt. Col. June Oldman, from the Oklahoma Air National Guard 137th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, is the mission director for MEDLITE 11. She added that the Guard is, has been and will continue to be a strong force in exercises and relationships like the one being developed through MEDLITE 11 with AFRICOM.
"Guardsmen are Citizen-Airmen," she said. "They are highly trained in their civilian and military careers and bringing that with them into the Guard, and sharing that knowledge with ... countries just like these that are just now developing programs.
"We have the best of both worlds, in that we can go to our civilian jobs, grow there and bring that to the Guard and share it with other people," Oldman said.
One of those Guard members bringing their experience to this exercise is Air Force Capt. Jason Arndt, who with the Minnesota Air National Guard's 133rd Airlift Wing serves as a flight nurse and in his civilian job was an emergency helicopter flight nurse who is now serving as the director of operations of a Minnesota hospital.
Arndt feels that the length of time Guard members tend to serve in one location, doing the same job for many years if not their entire career, adds a layer of knowledge to the aeromedical evacuation skill set and to exercises such as MEDLITE 11.
"Many of us have been doing this for five, 10, 15 years and that really shows when you go out into the system working with active duty and Reserves how that consistency in the job really pays off," he said. "It's a good fit."
He added that the Air National Guard is a logical choice to be working with the Congolese and developing their program.
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. David Truscinski who serves with Arndt as a flight nurse at the 133rd added that this exercise is an exact representation for what this career field looks like in the deployed environment.
"Just like when we deploy, we're working with active duty, with Reservist as combined forces and working with mixed crews," he said.
Both Arndt and Truscinski are excited to be working with the Congolese and to help mold their program. They both feel confident that because of the enthusiasm to learn and willingness to work hard, the Congolese will develop a successful program very soon.
Within the Total Force of the exercise is the underlying passion of the Congolese, Truscinski said.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a predominantly agricultural society with only 2.6 percent of their gross domestic product going to the military, now has members of their military working hard to take their new found skills forward.
"They are probably the best students I've ever taught," Arndt said.