PACAF hosts medical SME Exchange in Nepal

U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army and Nepal Army personnel conducted an Aviation Medicine Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) at the Shree Birendra Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, August 13-18, 2017.

The event was planned by the Pacific Air Forces International Health Specialists team with the PACAF Surgeon General office with the aim to streamline medical and casualty evacuation procedures in the Nepal Army.

Objectives of the SMEE included, exploring how to apply aviation medicine in the Nepal Army, how to move patients using rotary and fixed wing platforms, as well as developing and updating medical and casualty evacuation procedures/protocols.

The first few days of the event featured classroom instruction with both U.S. and Nepali personnel discussing theoretical knowledge in aviation medicine. During the last two days the participants transitioned to a table top exercise of an earthquake scenario in Nepal and then conducted a mass casualty drill.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Crystal Lenz, 31st Rescue Squadron Medical Director and flight surgeon, provided briefings on mass casualty response, patient movement, and an introduction to aerospace medicine, as well as, helping facilitate the table top mass casualty exercise for the exchange.

“I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this engagement,” Lenz said. “Not only did I learn quite a bit, but it was really rewarding to be able to share my own experiences, tips and tricks, and to work hand-in-hand with our Nepali counterparts toward providing a better response from both sides in the case of a natural disaster, hopefully saving more lives and potentially alleviating undue suffering.”

The aim throughout the exchange was to help better enhance aircrew safety and patient care during mass casualty, humanitarian assistance, disaster response, United Nations peacekeeping operations and other emergencies.

“Any time we get a chance to do an engagement like this it helps us sit back and look at how each other operate and discuss how we can fit in with each other either officially, through discussion on actual procedures and processes, or even informally through sharing stories of how we adapted and work in similar situations in training situations,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Ian Bertram, 36th Contingency Response Group Air Advisor Division commander.

While the event provided the opportunity for U.S. forces to collaborate with the Nepal Army, it also afforded the U.S. Air Force and Army the chance to improve upon their interoperability.

According to U.S. Army Maj. Jared Brynildsen, 25th Infantry Division Aeromedical Evacuation officer and lead for the SMEE, in terms of medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), the U.S. Army usually does most intra-theater MEDEVAC, while the U.S. Air Force conducts the inter-theater MEDEVAC, which are two sides of patient movement.

“It was great to see and learn more about the entire patient movement system and be able to answer one another’s questions,” Brynildsen said. “Additionally, the SME exchange classes were very beneficial conceptually for the Nepal Army as we collaborated to strengthen their capabilities. Many of their briefs had very similar doctrine to the U.S. It was evident that this and previous SMEEs are having an impact.”

The culminating event of a mock mass casualty earthquake merged both country’s experience and expertise on how to respond to such an event. Discussion on common knowledge, resources and limitations between medical and aviation branches of the Nepal Army helped to hone in on areas that could be improved upon.

“The Nepal Army and Nepal Army Medical Corps has a pivotal role in mass casualty humanitarian assistance and disaster response throughout the region,” said Nepal Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Sunita Panta, Shree Birenda Hospital anesthesiologist. “In this context, an aviation medicine SMEE was very relevant to enhance the response capacity of our medical personnel.”

“This exchange has indeed helped to improve interoperability between the U.S. and the Nepal Army,” she added. “Events and exercises like this subject matter expert exchange are very valuable to maintain partnership between the two countries in the future. Nepal is a developing country with limited means and medicine is a subject that needs frequent updates and regular refresher courses. Training and refresher courses in mass casualty management is one of the most important training to augment capabilities of our medical personnel.”