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PACANGEL unbound by numbers, helps 3,000 more

by Airman 1st Class Marianique Santos
36th Wing Public Affairs

4/3/2012 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNS) -- Operation Pacific Angel, an ongoing humanitarian assistance mission conducted throughout the Pacific theater, was recently competed at the first location, Legazpi City, Philippines, for 2012. U.S. forces provided medical and engineering assistance, as well as forums for subject matter expert exchanges for the locals. It was an interaction that benefitted all parties involved.

Lt. Col. Michael Black, 36th Mobility Response Squadron commander, said that during PACANGEL, they helped more than 8,600 patients. This number exceeded their original projection, which was 5,500 patients, by more than 3,000.

In helping more people than what they were originally ready for, the PACANGEL team was able to truly test their capabilities as a rapidly deployable contingency response forces.

"It provided practice in execution for humanitarian assistance scenarios and working with inter-agency concepts," Black said. "The 36th Contingency Response Group was able to deploy, set up a base camp and break it down in accordance with our mission concepts. The doctors got to practice medicine in a remote area where they were given limited resources. It was a challenging environment."

To elaborate on the challenges that the medical side had to overcome, Capt. Kemmet, 36th Medical Group family medical provider, explained the limitations that small spaces and limited resources posed in sanitation and waste disposal.

"Keeping instruments clean and re-usable was challenging," said Kemmet. "We had to manage our bio-hazardous waste, such as bodily fluids, and normal clinical garbage. Creating private places to evaluate patients with sensitive issues also proved to be difficult."

During the exercise, the team was completely self-contained. They treated patients and conducted their exercise, practicing humanitarian assistance for natural disasters and posturing Airmen for tomorrow's fight.

"We were able to exercise our contingency capabilities in a real world setting," said Kemmet. "This was an entirely new experience for many of us and will really help prepare our Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team for future disaster management. It also taught us how to interact and improve our relations with host nations."

Black said that with the cooperation of the Philippine military and the Legazpi locals, the U.S. forces were able to provide effective medical and engineering assistance. They were able to accommodate dental, optometry and general practice patients on the medical side. On the engineering side, they were able to renovate a public structure and two schools.

"We were also able to fix their plumbing and electrical facilities," he continued. "We had great weather, which was good for construction operations. The engineering projects were on time and on budget, and we were even able to do an extra plumbing project for one of the schools."

The medical side of the operation was just as busy. The 36 MDG saw multiple patients and educated them at the same time.

"One of our goals was to prevent morbidity and mortality by addressing easily treatable conditions like infections," said Kemmet. "We also focused on patient education for chronic disease management and disease prevention, with recommendations for oral hygiene, hand-washing and covering a cough. We helped our host nation medical counterparts by augmenting their own resources, educating on medical practices and our military procedures. Both sides benefitted from fostering good relationships for further joint operations."

All the success was not something gained overnight. The preparation for this particular iteration started five months prior to the mission, with an initial planning conference held in October 2011.The execution portion itself lasted for six days, from March 5 through 10. U.S. forces worked side-by-side with the Filipinos, both military and civilian, and two Cambodian medical professionals. A total of 99 Airmen participated, 75 percent of which came from the 36th Wing.

"It was 36th Civil Engineer Squadron, 36 MRS, 36 MDG and 736th Security Forces Squadron, as well as the 36 CRG headquarters staff, with a few others tossed in as well," said Black. "It was quite a mix."

Despite their number, the mission had its hurdles. Black said that the primary challenge the contingent had to deal with was logistics management. Since they saw more patients than they projected, they had to carefully manage their resources.

"We had several non-governmental organizations that were also participating and assisting," said Black. "They came through with extra eyeglasses and medicine to further the mission. We had more manpower than we expected. With the local government participating so enthusiastically, we were able to see and get that many patients through."

Along with the NGOs involvement, the general atmosphere of enthusiasm and willing participation of the locals allowed the mission to go smoothly.

"The people, ranging from the military to average everyday citizens in the area, were extremely enthusiastic about our presence there," Black said. "The local government, from the governor of the province to the mayors, and the health professionals that got involved, went out of their way to assist us. There was no area where we felt like we had to carry the load ourselves. They were very easy to work with and were outstanding hosts."

Operation PACANGEL has been on going in the theater for about five years, said Black. PACANGEL 12-1 is the first of four that will occur in 2012. The next three locations for this year are: Laos from April 23 through 28, in Phonsavahn Province; Vietnam from June 11 through 16, in Nghe An Province; and Nepal from Sept. 10 through 15, in Pokhara Province.

"Hopefully I will get the opportunity to participate again in the future," said Kemmet. "These operations strip away all the administrative aspects of day-to-day life and allow us to focus on patient care, education and problem solving in a deployed setting. As members of the military, it provided an opportunity to use our expertise, expeditionary forces and resources to help a developing nation and serve people in need."

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