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212th MASH lending medical support in Angola

By Karen Parrish

AMBRIZ, Angola (Army News Service, Sept. 13, 2005) – The last Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in the Army has its tents pitched with all systems “go” in Angola, Africa, for Exercise MEDFLAG 2005, which began Aug. 21 and runs through Sept. 22.

The 212th MASH, 30th Medical Brigade, U.S. Army Europe, is the lead unit for MEDFLAG ‘05’s Task Force Angola, which also includes Air Force personnel, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers.

U.S. European Command schedules a MEDFLAG annually as part of its theater engagement plan, officials said. Each year’s exercise is set in a different African country, and led by a different European service component command, they explained.

“Last year, USAFE (U.S. Air Force, Europe) had one in South Africa,” said Col. Angel Lugo, 212th MASH commander. “This year is the Army’s opportunity, USAREUR’s lead.”

By Sept. 10, Task Force Angola had already achieved some major MEDFLAG ’05 objectives: task force engineers had installed a large water pump in the town of Ambriz that effectively doubled the town’s water supply; the hospital was established and certified; the first Humanitarian Assistance Program delivery was complete; and crisis-response training with Angolan military members was underway.

Tents house many clinics

The 212th MASH facility in Ambriz is a tent complex containing an operating room, intensive care area, obstetric and gynecology clinic, orthopedic clinic, surgery-capable dental clinic, pharmacy and radiology department.

The doctors, nurses and other medical staff of the MASH, Lugo said, will provide patient care and perform 80 to 100 surgeries over a four-day period as part of the exercise.

“Clearly, a MASH is a field hospital focused on doing surgical procedures and emergency procedures. That’s our trademark,” he said. “So we informed the Angolan military that as part of the exercise we would establish our hospital, and be able to perform real-world surgeries in our operating rooms, and see patients through our emergency section.”

Lugo said Angolan military medical practitioners are helping to identify potential patients based on exercise limitations.

“We’re capable of holding intensive-care patients, but that’s not the intent here, because you want to select patients who don’t require a lot of follow-up care after surgery,” Lugo said. “We’re not going to be here for a long time.”

The MASH as a unit won’t be around long, either, Lugo said; it is scheduled to convert to a Combat Support Hospital in October 2006.

“This may be one of our last great missions as a MASH,” he said.

Other humanitarian assistance

MEDFLAG ’05 includes three major humanitarian assistance projects apart from hospital-based care: installing a water pump in Ambriz, delivering State Department medical supplies, and medical civic action programs.

The 367th Engineer Battalion sent 15 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from its home station in Minnesota to install the water pump for Ambriz. The engineers deployed Aug. 21 and redeployed Sept. 6, ahead of the task force’s main body.

The Humanitarian Assistance Program, or HAP, is a U.S. State Department effort that collects overstocked medical equipment and supplies and stockpiles it for distribution to other nations.

Maj. Soo Lee Davis, 212th MASH executive officer, said the unit requested and transported eight air load pallets’ worth of HAP medical equipment and supplies, with a value of about $200,000, from the State Department warehouse in Pirmasens, Germany, to be delivered to three clinics near the MEDFLAG site in Angola.

Choice of equipment was partly to support the clinic visits the hospital staff will conduct during the exercise, she said, and partly to provide long-term help to those clinics.

“Colonel Lugo’s guidance was to bring sufficient equipment for us to furnish the patient rooms and patient wards in those clinics as much as possible,” she said. “He wanted to make sure we made an immediate difference.”

The first delivery achieved that objective, Lugo said. When Task Force Angola troops arrived at Ambriz clinic Sept. 9 with three trucks full of HAP equipment, the facility was sparsely furnished and nearly empty.

A few hours later, after troops had unloaded and set up beds, mattresses, examining tables, bedside tables, IV stands and other equipment, the clinic had a different appearance.

Lugo said, “You would have thought the patients had received treatment – and they had. With new beds, new tables, new IV stands and all new equipment, you could see they felt better already.”

Patients at Ambriz and the two other clinics receiving HAP supplies, Capulo and Loge Grande, will receive further treatment when the MASH staff travels to those sites for MEDCAPS.

For the MEDCAP visits, the hospital will take its specialists to each clinic in turn, where doctors, nurses and other health care professionals will offer general medical, optometry and dental care, along with obstetric-gynecology and preventive medicine education to the Angolan people.

Crisis Response

Another major aspect to the exercise is mass casualty response training with Angolan military and civilian medical and emergency services organizations, Lugo said.

The MASCAL training with Angolan military medical staff will take place over two days, and will be followed immediately by a mass casualty – MASCAL – exercise, according to Lt. Col. Ann Sammartino, a nurse-anesthetist and chief nurse for the 212th MASH.

The training, she said, will include classes on basic to advanced trauma life support, and hands-on training covering combat lifesaver skills and vehicle extraction.

“We will also have classes covering how to operate a civilian-military operations center. We’ll give just a brief overview of that, but there is a separate conference we will have at Caxito,” Sammartino said.

That conference, she said, will involve a panel of subject-matter experts teaching a full day of classes to about 200 Angolan government officials.

Joint team doing good

In Ambriz, the task force’s Soldiers and Airmen gather each morning for formation, sounding off with “One team!”

Along with the 212th MASH, the exercise team includes:

• 23 Air Force members from seven Europe-based units;

• Elements of the 523rd Medical Company (Dental Services);

• 101st Signal Battalion;

• 300th Military Intelligence Brigade linguists;

• Preventive and environmental medicine specialists from the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention, Europe.

• Engineers from the 367th Eng. Bn. who installed the high-capacity water pump in the town of Ambriz

• The Air Force’s 86th Crisis Response Group which keeps the camp’s water running. The CRG provides shower and laundry water for the task force through a reverse osmosis water purification unit, which removes particulates and ions from the local seawater.

Lugo said his troops have deployed well and are motivated for the work ahead.

“There is no more real-world training they can get than this,” he said. “This is what it’s all about.”

(Editor’s note: Karen Parrish serves with U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs.)

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