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Air Force humanitarian team arrives on Chuuk

by Capt. Andrew Hoskinson
36th Wing Public Affairs

9/4/2009 - WENO ISLAND, Chuuk (AFNS) -- The Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team, or HARRT, validation exercise officially began Sept. 2 with the arrival of a C-17 Globemaster III transporting 54 Air Force medical and contingency response experts to the Micronesian island state of Chuuk.

The team will provide medical assistance to citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia during a five-day evaluation of the Air Force's new expeditionary medical capability.

The humanitarian team was created in order to quickly respond to a disaster or humanitarian crisis in the Pacific region. HARRT could respond to Typhoons, earthquakes or volcanoes.

"In this part of the world, it is not a question of if a disaster will occur, but rather when a disaster will occur," said Col. Wayne Pritt, a 13th Air Force command surgeon. Thirteenth AF officials at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, led the development of the HARRT concept.

"The HARRT provides the capability for faster and more efficient medical care, so that we can provide support within hours or a few days of a disaster," Colonel Pritt said.

Conceived out of lessons learned from previous humanitarian operations, the HARRT is unique in its structure and scale. The team brings together a medical component and a base operations support element.

While including the ability to open an air base and provide medical support in an austere environment, the HARRT remains small and rapidly deployable.

"The notion that the HARRT is light, lean and capable is the key to understanding what this team is really about," Colonel Pritt said. "We scaled down the size and scope of previous humanitarian missions without adversely affecting the fundamental ability to provide care to those in need."

In an actual contingency, the team would be self-sufficient for up to five days before additional medical supplies and personnel would arrive on scene.

Designed to deploy to a disaster area within 24 hours of notice, the HARRT would provide initial primary care and preventive medicine to a distressed population, Colonel Pritt said. The team would then pave the way for the arrival of larger governmental or non-governmental organizations.
"In the realm of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, the key is to provide assistance as fast as possible," Colonel Pritt said. "We like to say that if you can't get there early, then don't bother. It will be too late to help."

In the Pacific region, Marines from U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, typically would replace or augment the HARRT after five days, in order to meet the needs of those affected by a disaster.

On Chuuk, there is no disaster relief operation and the crisis is simulated. In order to validate the medical component of the mission, the team will provide basic medical care and public health assistance at no cost to Chuukese patients for four days.

The deployed team are members of the 36th Medical Group and the 36th Contingency Response Group at Andersen AFB, Guam. Additional participants come from the 374th Medical Group at Yokota Air Base, Japan, as well as the 36th Civil Engineer Squadron and Guam Naval Hospital. During the validation exercise, a group of observers and assessors will evaluate the team's responsiveness and effectiveness.

"We have brought together some of the best medical and contingency response experts in the Air Force," said Col. Daniel Settergren, the 36th CRG commander and HARRT mission commander. "We are definitely ready to validate the concept and at the same time we look forward to providing medical care to the Chuukese people."

Once the HARRT concept is validated, the team will be available to U.S. Pacific Command leaders to deploy to areas affected by real-world disasters.

"The HARRT provides the answer to the need for a quick response in a disaster situation," Colonel Settergren said. "By harnessing the reach and efficiency of Air Force airlift and the expeditionary abilities of the CRG, we can have a medical clinic up within six hours after landing."

The medical component of the HARRT is built around the Air Force's Expeditionary Medical Support kit. The basic EMEDS kit contains four beds and allows treatment of 350 patients per day in normal operations and up to 500 patients per day in contingency operations.

On Chuuk, the team will provide limited emergency and resuscitative care, ambulatory care, limited laboratory and pharmacy services and public health and bioenvironmental engineering assistance.

"We are excited to offer this medical care to the Chuukese people," Colonel Settergren said. "The citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia have welcomed our team with open arms and we look forward to giving back to their community while we validate this exciting concept."


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