By Army Pvt. Alleea Oliver, 49th Public Affairs Detachment
ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 28, 2017 — Soldiers of the 602nd Area Support Medical Company, 261st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 44th Medical Brigade, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, arrived here Sept. 12, within 24 hours of notification to start disaster relief efforts in response to Hurricane Irma.
The 44th Medical Brigade is capable of rapid deployment with flexible teams and conducts Defense Support of Civil Authorities operations to assist civilian responders in saving lives, relieving human suffering and mitigating property damage in response to a catastrophic disaster as directed by the Defense Department.
Close to 90 service members comprised of soldiers of the 602nd ASMC, Army doctors attached through the professional filler system and an Air Force field surgical team out of Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, assist the Schneider Regional Medical Center's staff after the hospital sustained major damage following Hurricane Irma and later Hurricane Maria.
‘This Is What We Train For’
"This is what we train for," said Army Capt. John Pennington, commander of the 602nd ASMC. "This is what we have been focused on. Soldiers are augmenting the hospital’s staff and our medevac section has the lead for the patient evacuations.”
The soldiers augmented hospital services, Pennington said, by providing triage care, X-rays, medical evacuations, laboratory and preventive medicine services, and debris clean up in order to lighten the load of the medical center's staff.
“The military assist wherever they can, whether on the medical side ... in our kitchen, [or] manual labor,” said Darryl Smalls, a native of St. Thomas and the vice president facility manager of the Schneider Regional Medical Center.
“Without the military, I am not sure where we would [have] been at this stage,” he said.
Some of the soldiers assisted in the emergency room to augment where there is a lack of medical providers, said Pennington, who hails from Waldorf, Maryland.
In four days, the 602nd ASMC treated approximately 100 patients, where 14 patients were transported to the Cyril E. King Airport and evacuated to medical facilities off the island.
Anything the soldiers have been asked to do, they have done it with outpouring support, Smalls said.
Addition to the medical support, the 602nd ASMC gave moral support, he added, like hearing soldiers say everything is going to be alright.
The soldiers of the 602nd ASMC continue to provide medical assistance in support of the St. Thomas residents and are prepared to stay longer as needed.
“The soldiers are excited to go out and help U.S. civilians in a time of need,” Pennington said. “It is good to answer the nation’s call.”
With a force of approximately 2,000 personnel, the 44th Medical Brigade has over 35 military occupational specialties to provide health services support during a humanitarian crisis.