Military News

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Georgia goes to Georgia: breaching barriers and building relationships

by Master Sgt. Roger Parsons
116 Air Control Wing Public Affairs

9/25/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Imagine traveling to a foreign country, not speaking the language, and being tasked to teach some of the country's top medical professionals all through the use of translators.

For a team of eight healthcare experts from the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing medical group, that's exactly what the doctor ordered, and the doctor in this case was the U.S. European Command.

"We were invited to the Republic of Georgia by EUCOM to teach physicians, infectious disease experts and hazmat response teams about treating patients in a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive environment," said Chief Master Sgt. Cynthia Haines, 116th Medical Group medical operations superintendent.

The team from the state of Georgia, based out of Robins Air Force Base, is well known for their expertise when it comes to disaster preparedness.

According to Col. Muriel Herman, the 116th Medical Group commander, her group has a proven record of success from which to share.

"In each of our last three Homeland Response Force external evaluations we received a perfect score," said Herman.

Overcoming barriers in language and culture, while speaking through translators, the Airmen shared practical experiences gained from years of training and real-life situations with a group of 35 professionals from the Georgian Ministry of Health and Ministry of Defense.

"In preparing for the trip we didn't have all the details about who our target audience would be so we brought subject matter experts from a number of different categories," said Herman.

"As it turned out, the group we were teaching not only included some of the top military and civilian physicians and first-responders, but also the Chief of Infection Control and policy writers for biological and chemical response for the country," said Herman.

Herman and her team shared a series of interactive presentations followed by biological, chemical, and radiological scenarios that they created with a personal touch.

"We did research about the area and people prior to the trip so we could make our presentations personal and realistic to them," said Lt. Col. Julie Churchman, chief nurse of the 116th Medical Group.

On the next to last day of class the roles changed and the Airmen put on headsets, listening through translators, as their Georgian counterparts explained how they would work through the scenarios.

"During the scenarios you could really tell they had thought it through and were getting it," said Herman. "All during the process we found they were amazing people with great ideas. It was a great learning experience for all of us."

Beyond the classroom, relationships were forged and camaraderie built that brought with it an opportunity. The team from the Georgia Air National Guard shared about an event that occurred on the third day of class that resulted in one of the most heartfelt moments of the trip.

"A physician approached our team about a patient she had a question about, wondering if we might have any resources that could help them," said Herman. "For two months they had struggled to diagnose this particularly difficult case."

Herman shared how the 116th Medical Group had the perfect resource that might be able to help. That resource came in the form of one the medical unit's physicians, Lt. Col. Anna Likos.  A part-time Citizen Airmen with the Georgia Guard, Likos works fulltime as the director for the Division of Disease Control and Health Protection for the Florida Department of Health in her civilian career.

A quick call to Likos resulted in a temporary diagnosis that pointed the Republic of Georgia physician and her colleagues in the right direction towards helping the patient.

"What started as a few members from both nations trying to come up with a solution, turned into the whole class working together excited about the possibility of being able to help the patient," said Herman. "The collaboration was even briefed at the Georgian Embassy."

The last day of class brought a surprise for the Airmen from Georgia that demonstrated the bond that had been built throughout the week.

"Our last day of class was on Sept. 11," said Herman. "We went to class as normal and didn't say anything about the day. The Georgian students stopped class on that day and wanted to have a moment of silence in remembrance of 9/11. It was a very touching moment for all of us."

"The Georgian people were very giving and compassionate," added Haines.

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