Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Face of Defense: Navy Audiologist Contributes to Pacific Partnership

By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Byron C. Linder Logistics Group Western Pacific

YAP, Micronesia, April 3, 2018 — Pacific Partnership 2018 marks the 13th iteration of the Navy's humanitarian and civic assistance mission. It brings together a vast array of military personnel from countries including the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and Japan. In each demographic, you’ll find personnel who are on their first, second, or even third trip to Micronesia.

But only one participant this year can claim to have the most firsthand experience with the Micronesian islands. He is Navy Lt. Matt Thomas, an audiologist stationed at Navy Environmental Preventative Medicine Unit 6 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, with 18 years of service on active duty and in the Navy Reserve.

Seeking a Change

Before joining the Navy, Thomas found himself working for a baseball team and being less than impressed with the “grunt work” the job entailed.

“During my breaks, I would read, mostly history. I was a history major, and I wanted to work overseas when I got out of college, but I was not doing that. So I put it all together and figured the Navy would be the way to make that happen,” Thomas explained.

Thomas pursued a career as a surface warfare officer, but it was during a deployment to Djibouti in 2010 that he began not just a transition from the reserve to active duty, but also to a whole new field.

“The medical field was my avenue to go from the reserves to active duty, and audiology offered me the chance to take the prerequisite courses while I was deployed. I took eight classes that one summer in Djibouti, applied to every school that I could, and got accepted,” Thomas recalled, adding he continued to serve in the Navy Reserve while balancing a full-time class schedule.

Navy Environmental Preventative Medicine Unit 6, Thomas’ command, has a significant operational presence in the Oceana area. But, he said, it was force of will that got him to Micronesia.

“I had to piggyback myself to missions that were coming out here. I’d done my research and seen [Micronesia] had, at one time, taken U.S. dollars to start a newborn hearing screening program for audiology, so that was the foot in the door when we had a couple of projects in Chuuk,” he explained. “Two months later, I was in Yap with an entomologist. While he did his work, I did audiology and reviewed their programs. Since then, there’s certain funding that comes up for public health works, and myself and a couple of other team members are the caretakers for that. We go to different states in Micronesia and determine what their needs are, and I’m also doing audiology, so I’m dual-hatted in that sense -- working as a provider but also as an advance planner for public health works there.”

Helping Where Needed

While medical professionals in Micronesia can perform hearing screenings, Thomas explained that in the event of a patient failing the screenings, solutions local to the islands are nonexistent.

“There is no audiologist in [Micronesia], period … if the kids don’t pass, they don’t have the capabilities to do a follow-up diagnostic test to determine if there’s any damage, or determine the extent. It’s nice to come in and reassure parents that the kids are fine medically, or if there’s permanent hearing loss, educate them on what next steps to take. It helps to educate the teachers as well -- students who may have not appeared to be paying attention actually can’t hear,” he said.

The effort to bring screenings to more people appears to be paying off, Thomas said, allowing him to focus on the patients who need him most. “My first day in Chuuk, I saw 40 people, and averaged 35 per day while I was there,” he said. “Now I’ll average 12-20 people, and the last time I was in Pohnpei, I saw six a day -- cases that were earmarked for me to see -- cases with failed hearing screenings or speech difficulty.”

In addition to the lack of a resident expert, Thomas identified two environmental factors for hearing loss in Micronesia.

“I see a lot of the hearing loss is due to ear infections,” he said. “Kids in general are susceptible to ear infections, but when you add in a warm tropical climate and, in Chuuk especially, the kids are always in the water -- it’s a picnic for bacteria. Some treatment, if it’s done, it’s not followed through, or they just don’t stay out of the water. So you see what could be a temporary hearing loss develop into permanent hearing loss, and unfortunately I’ve seen that happen a number of times here.”

Thomas noted that while children can usually be treated, the sands of time are to blame for adult hearing loss.

“The kids I have seen here, I can get them to pass the hearing screening, but a lot of the adults have permanent hearing loss through age. They’re not exposed to a lot of the loud noises we have in the U.S., so that’s typically not an issue we see here,” he said. “The ear infections that lead to permanent hearing loss are definitely prevalent here.”


Audiology is far from the only specialty available among the personnel taking part in the Pacific Partnership mission, and for Thomas, it is an incredible reward to see the effect that has on the people they help.

“A big thing for Pacific Partnership is the specialties they don’t have and can’t sustain. It has a long-lasting impact. I was a surface warfare officer for 14 years, and none of those deployments were as enjoyable as this one -- you didn’t have the feel of the impact on the local population,” he said. “You don’t have the feeling of, ‘I’m affecting lives on a local basis.’ I became an audiologist in 2015, and I have been begging, kicking and screaming to go on Pacific Partnership ever since. I finally got on this one, and I’ve already thrown my hat in to go on next year’s as well.”

For new visitors to Micronesia, Thomas advised that Yap is far from representative of the islands as a whole.

“See every island you can,” he said. “They’re all different, and they all have their own features. Yap has great diving, Chuuk has different diving and Pohnpei has waterfalls that I’ve never seen before. They’re all friendly, but they’ve got their own unique vibe.”

Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multinational humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific. The mission’s objective is to enhance regional coordination in areas such as medical readiness and preparedness for man-made and natural disasters.
More than 800 military and civilian personnel from Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Peru, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom will join allied and partner nations for the mission. Personnel are embarked aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy and expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Brunswick, working side-by-side with host nation counterparts to be better prepared for potential humanitarian aid and disaster response situations.

Kuwaiti, U.S. Ordnance Techs Share Experience, Techniques

By Army Sgt. David L. Nye U.S. Army Central

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait, April 3, 2018 — Explosive ordnance disposal technicians with the Kuwait Land Forces and the U.S. Army trained together March 22 at Gerber Training Area here, to improve both countries’ ability to counter improvised explosive devices during terror attacks in cities.

Kuwaiti officers led the way through the training lanes using their tactics, techniques and procedures, allowing the U.S. observers to pick up some ideas and to share some of their own techniques.

“Today we’re working with our Kuwaiti partners to practice working in an urban operation, just to better familiarize ourselves and our Kuwaiti partners in what might happen in a Boston bombing or Paris, France-style attack,” said Army Staff Sgt. Zachary Zalesny, an explosive ordnance technician with the 797th Ordnance Company.

In deliberate terror attacks like what took place in Boston, Paris, and other locations, attackers often plant multiple devices to sow confusion and uncertainty.

Slow, Methodical Search

“The big key points when dealing with an attack like that is that there’s usually a lot of areas where improvised explosive devices might be hidden, and you have to move slowly and methodically to make sure you don’t miss anything,” Zalesny said.

The Kuwait Land Forces officers used simple tools and techniques to spot probable enemy devices and other traps, then worked to defeat them.

“What that means is that we’re going to identify the threat, assess the situation, and come up with a plan in order to either defuse the situation or get rid of it entirely,” said Army 1st Lt.

While the exact steps each force takes to defeat IEDs are withheld for security reasons, techniques are designed to limit the consequences of an explosion, limit the chances of an explosion, and to keep EOD technicians safe while they work.

Soldiers use a variety of tools to safely find and identify IEDs.

“So, usually in urban operations we like to use canines because they’re good at locating IEDs,” Zalesny said. “In addition to that, we use robots as well as radiographic devices like X-rays to find or confirm any IEDs in the area.”

The EOD robot has become an iconic piece of equipment, but they have some limitations, he said.

“The robots are usually pretty efficient,” Zalesny said. “At times they can be overwhelmed by just a lot of things to go through. At times they can be tricky to maneuver and open things up, so that’s why we usually rely on multiple types of robots as well as K-9s and X-rays to go through things.”

For the U.S. and Kuwaiti soldiers, exchanging ideas allows the forces to grow closer together.

“It’s always a pleasure, working with the Kuwaitis,” Henderson said. “This training has been a long time coming -- a lot of months went into planning it, and it’s exciting to see this coming together.”
He added, “It just kind of gets everyone on the same page, like I said. The threat is global, and so, when we get chances, we want to work together, train together.”

Women of Weather: Hurricane Hunters Make a Difference

By Air Force Maj. Marne A.C. Losurdo, 403rd Wing

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss., April 3, 2018 — Two Air Force officers realized their dreams about becoming a Hurricane Hunter and flying into the most powerful storms on Earth.

Air Force Maj. Ashley Lundry, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer, and Air Force Maj. Devon Meister, a pilot, are both members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, referred to as the Hurricane Hunters, a unit in the 403rd Wing here.

The 53rd WRS is the only Defense Department unit that flies reconnaissance missions into severe tropical weather during the hurricane season, June 1 through Nov. 30, to gather data for the National Hurricane Center to improve their forecasts and storm warnings.

Father’s Support

“It was my dream to fly though hurricanes since I was a little girl,” Lundry said. Her father, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Navy pilot, influenced her career choice, she said. “I always thought weather was really cool, and my dad told me there were pilots who flew planes through hurricanes,” she added. “He planted the idea that I could do it.”

And she did, though she first served in the Army and the Air National Guard. Lundry received an Army ROTC scholarship to attend the Florida Institute of Technology, earning a degree in meteorology and her commission in 2006. She got her master’s degree in physical science at Emporia State University in Kansas in 2013.

After serving four years as an Army logistics officer, she transferred to the Oklahoma Air National Guard in 2010 to serve as a weather officer. She attended the Weather Officer Course here in 2010 and toured the 53rd WRS, which provided her an opportunity to inquire about future opportunities to serve in the squadron, she said. She transferred to the 53rd in 2014 and began her training to become a qualified ARWO.

For Meister, the path to become a Hurricane Hunter wasn’t a lifelong goal as it was for Lundry, but she knew she wanted a degree in mathematics, and the Air Force provided her the opportunity to do so, she said.

“I really liked math,” said Meister, who earned her degree from the University of South Florida in 2003. “And a good thing about a mathematics degree is that it opens a lot of doors for you in the military. At the time I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in the Air Force, but they needed weather officers. They sent me to get a second bachelor’s degree in meteorology at the U.S. Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California, and I became a weather officer.”

Meister also attended the Weather Officer Course here in 2004 and visited the Hurricane Hunters to learn about their mission.

“Ever since I went on that tour, I wanted to be a part of the Hurricane Hunters,” Meister said.

However, Meister got the opportunity to become a pilot and took it. While in pilot training, she found out her unit was losing its mission and she had to find a job, so she called the 53rd WRS and was told that the squadron had a pilot board scheduled the following month. She met that board and signed on as a Hurricane Hunter in November 2011.

Among the Few

Today, Meister is one of two female pilots in the squadron, one of 243 female pilots in the Air Force Reserve, and one of 728 in the entire Air Force. Lundry is one of four female ARWOs in the squadron, Air Force Reserve and Air Force; the 53rd WRS is the only unit that has this job.

It’s a unique mission, and with that mission comes unique challenges. As a pilot, Meister and her counterparts fly into storms most pilots avoid.

“The biggest difference between being a pilot for the Hurricane Hunters versus another unit is we purposely fly into severe weather rather than avoid it; and there is no training for that,” Meister said.

In fact, the majority of the squadron's training for pilots, navigators, ARWOs and loadmasters is all conducted at home station and during operational missions, she said, as there is no formal schoolhouse.

“We are a student for multiple missions into a hurricane so we can experience the environment,” said Meister, who added it took her about two years of pilot training, C-130J specific qualification and on-the-job training to become proficient to fly through storms.

Meister, who has now flown into 52 storms and has more than 1,500 flight hours, said her role as a pilot is to fly the weather officer into the storm.

Because the Air Force has only 20 ARWOs, Lundry said, their training also takes place in-house.

“We need actual storms to fly for training, so the hurricane season impacts how soon you can become fully qualified,” Lundry explained, adding that it took about a year and she flew through 10 storms with 94 storm flight hours.

Two Types of Missions

The squadron conducts two types of missions: low-level invests and fix missions. ARWOs direct the mission for both, Lundry said.

“And that’s unique to our mission,” Meister said. “The weather officer is telling the pilot where to go to get the best data, and then the navigator and pilots work together to ensure the crew will be safe flying into those conditions.”

A low-level invest mission is flown at 500 to 1,500 feet to determine if there is a closed circulation, and if there is a closed circulation, the crew begins flying fix missions into the system, Lundry said. Once a system becomes a tropical storm or hurricane, the Hurricane Hunters begin flying at higher altitudes, ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet depending on the severity of the storm.

Aircrews fly through the eye of a storm four to six times to locate the low-pressure center and circulation of the storm. During each pass through the center, they release a dropsonde, which collects weather data on its descent to the ocean surface, specifically gathering the surface winds and pressure.

During the invest and storm flights, the aircrews transmit weather data via satellite communication every 10 minutes to the National Hurricane Center to assist with their forecasts and storm warnings.

Some people may wonder why a person would want to do this job, but it was an easy decision, Meister and Lundry said.

“I want to make sure I’m spending my time on Earth wisely; I want to do something that’s valuable,” Meister said. “The only tool that forecasters have for tropical cyclone prediction is satellite data; and that’s not enough because a satellite can't tell you the exact center, wind speeds on the surface, and the central pressure of a storm. We have to fly into the storm to gather that data. Providing this data to the NHC and increasing their forecast accuracy is rewarding and important to me.”

Making a Difference

Meister and Lundry said they believe they’re making a difference in the lives of others by doing this mission.

As women with mathematics and scientific degrees in scientific career fields that are typically dominated by men, Meister and Lundry are setting an example for future generations. In 2015, women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs and held 24 percent of the jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematic jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce Office Economics and Statistics Administration Office of the Chief Economist “STEM Jobs: 2017 Update.”

“As a meteorologist, and in any science career, there are fewer females, but I think that’s changing,” Lundry said.

“I was surprised to learn that only 7 percent of pilots in Reserve are women,” Meister said. “But, that’s why I like going and talking at schools where little girls can see that there is a female doing the job. I like to go on the Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour and U.S. Hurricane Awareness Tour to show young women there is a girl on this plane, and there is opportunity out there for them to become an aircrew member. Every day during the HAT,” she continued, “a child would ask if girls fly on this plane, and we say, ‘Yes, and you can, too.’”

The pilot’s advice to young women is to push themselves and just try something challenging as it can be really difficult to take that first step, she said.
“Get out of your comfort zone and try things you don’t think you can do, because what you’re capable of will surprise you,” she said. “Focus on being teachable; do your best to learn the material and then try something harder. By successfully passing courses in school you are building a track record for of success for yourself. In high school I never would have thought I’d be where I am today, but the military made that possible.”