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U.S. Army Africa Command Surgeon details need for Army Reserve medical professionals

Feb 23, 2011

By Lt. Col. William D. Ritter, Army Reserve Medical Command Public Affairs

TAMPA, Fla. -- Col. Alfonso Alarcon, U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) Command Surgeon, attended the Army Reserve Medical Command's (AR-MEDCOM) Commanders Training Workshop (CTW) Feb. 11 in Tampa, Fla., on behalf of USARAF Commander, Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg.

He addressed 340 senior leaders from the AR-MEDCOM during the opening day of the three-day conference to describe USARAF's missions and to stress how their medical talents are producing positive results throughout his command's area of operations.

"There are a lot of great opportunities for medical professionals within USARAF," Alarcon told the audience.

"Our continued success is made possible through collaboration with AR-MEDCOM and other reserve component organization. The medical difference they have made in Africa is huge," he said.

USARAF is the Army Service Component Command for the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). It enables AFRICOM to complete full spectrum operations while conducting sustained security engagement with African land forces to promote security, stability and peace on the continent. The mission in Africa is principally one of capacity building; there are no large military forces stationed there for conflict. A main goal of USARAF and AFRICOM is to prevent conflict in the region, Alarcon said.

Part of the mission involves promoting good will through medical assistance to nations on the continent through Medical Readiness and Training Exercises (MEDRETE) or MEDFLAG missions.

MEDRETE provides overseas deployment and field medical training to Reserve component and active duty Soldiers who provide medical, dental, veterinary, optometry and preventive medicine care to the partnering host nation, he said.

MEDFLAG missions provide medical training and facilitate an interchange of medical information and techniques with host nation medical personnel in targeted African nations. MEDFLAG exercises are beneficial to both U.S. participants, who are able to practice field medicine and treat health problems they may not have seen before, as well as to the host nation, because of the health services provided to a substantial number of patients.

Over the past 21 years, 33 MEDFLAGs have been conducted in 26 countries. AR-MEDCOM most recently participated in MEDFLAGs in the Democratic Republic of Congo in September 2010, and in Uganda in October 2009.

Alarcon discussed some of the successes AR-MEDCOM helped USARAF achieve. He quoted Luzolo Bambi, Minister of Justice and Human Rights for the Democratic Republic of Congo: "It is my hope that our respective national organizations will learn something about each other as they work together over the coming weeks. In the end, it is about saving lives and minimizing human suffering in the event of a disaster," he said.

Minimizing human suffering is a USARAF guiding principle in addition to adding value to people's lives; presenting positive impressions; and developing strong relationships with African partner nations, he said.

To complete its mission, USARAF depends on help from the Guard and Reserve, Alarcon said.

As an Army Service Component Command, USARAF has a staff of more than 500 military and civilian personnel engaged in planning and running missions, but has no organic forces to carry them out. USARAF relies on troop allocations from Department of Defense, Department of Army and the Reserve Component to carry out the missions it plans, he said.

"It was a pretty interesting briefing," said Col. Paul Malinda, commander of the 4005th U.S. Army Hospital from Lovick, Texas. "I really didn't really know anything about USARAF or AFRICOM. I didn't know what they did; I didn't realize there were all those opportunities for training over there."

Other attendees expressed similar responses.

"It was really enlightening for me," said Master Sgt. Antony Nunn, acting command sergeant major for the 7305th Medical Support Battalion, Sacramento, Calif. "It is a great way to train my Soldiers, do a lot of good in the region and be beneficial to the United States in fostering good will."

Nunn said he felt an AT (advanced training) in Africa would be better than many he's had in his career.

"We'd be doing a real world mission for people who do not have access to health care. It's very rewarding to the Soldiers to know they are helping somebody who otherwise would not get that care," he said. "It's an excellent opportunity for training, for morale and for camaraderie amongst the units."

"I think a lot of our medics and nurses need to get involved in what's going on there," said Col. Irma H. Cooper, 7305th unit commander. "It's a great contribution to the countries there, their stability and our readiness."

Alarcon, who was invited to the CTW by the AR-MEDCOM planning staff, highlighted how Africa is a continent with complex challenges, but is a progressive continent with unlimited potential, especially with continued support from the AR-MEDCOM.

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