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Medical Airmen set sail aboard USS Mercy humanitarian mission

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy is anchored off the coast of Manila, the Philippines.  Three Airmen from the 374th Medical Group at Yokota Air Base, Japan, are deployed on the ship as it delivers aid and humanitarian assistance to Southeast Asia.  (U.S. Navy photo/Photographers Mate 2nd Class Troy Latham)

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy is anchored off the coast of Manila, the Philippines. Three Airmen from the 374th Medical Group at Yokota Air Base, Japan, are deployed on the ship as it delivers aid and humanitarian assistance to Southeast Asia. (U.S. Navy photo/Photographers Mate 2nd Class Troy Latham)

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy is anchored off the coast of Manila, the Philippines.  Three Airmen from the 374th Medical Group at Yokota Air Base, Japan, are deployed on the ship as it delivers aid and humanitarian assistance to Southeast Asia.  (U.S. Navy photo/Photographers Mate 2nd Class Troy Latham)

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy is anchored off the coast of Manila, the Philippines. Three Airmen from the 374th Medical Group at Yokota Air Base, Japan, are deployed on the ship as it delivers aid and humanitarian assistance to Southeast Asia. (U.S. Navy photo/Photographers Mate 2nd Class Troy Latham)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Three Airmen from the 374th Medical Group here are deployed to the U.S. Navy hospital ship, USS Mercy, as it tours Southeast Asia on a humanitarian mission. 

The proactive mission is an opportunity for a U.S. medical team consisting of medical professionals from the Air Force, Army and Navy to work with members of the U.S. 
Public Health Service and nongovernmental organizations. 

The Airmen joined the Mercy crew in the Philippines and will get the opportunity for hands-on training in the field to include performing diagnostics and surveys of diseases in the area, analyzing industrial hygiene, conducting seminars in field sanitation, food safety and general health for the host-nation military and community health workers, and reviewing and recommending vector control programs with emphasis on malaria and dengue control. 

“We are joining up with the USS Mercy in the Philippines and will work with the medical team for about three months,” said Capt. Shane Sims, Public Health deputy flight commander. “This is a really unique opportunity for us in the public health field because we don’t often get to deploy on humanitarian missions like this.” 

As they travel throughout the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and East Timor, one area of the team’s focus will be on health education. 

“We’ll be looking at the processes in place and offering recommendations for improvement in areas that will benefit the health of the local population,” said Capt. Sims. 

The mission offers Yokota’s Airmen more than just a chance to put medical skills to work in a deployed environment. “My wife and I are both looking forward to this opportunity,” said the captain. “I’ll get the chance to practice the ‘bread and butter’ of my profession and my wife gets the time to visit family in Korea with our six-month-old daughter Nari.” 

Physical health journeyman, Senior Airman Natasha Dansby, also spoke with her mother about her deployment on board the Navy ship and said her mother was happy to know she too was deploying on a humanitarian mission. 

“My mom is happy that I have to chance to help people in other countries directly,” said Airman Dansby. “I’m excited to work with the other branches of service, see more of the world and experience a totally different environment than I grew up in as a child in Newport News, Va. I also know this is a unique opportunity that doesn’t happen often for my career field – especially for new Airmen.” 

Public health isn’t the only career field represented by the 374th MDG Airmen though, the most junior member of the Yokota team will bring careful organization skills to the mission as a health service management technician. For Blanca Gama, a tour with the Navy brings a certain amount of the unexpected to the airman first class from Fresno, Calif. 

“I don’t know what to expect,” said Airman Gama. “I know it will be different than what I’ve gotten used to for the past two years here, but I look forward to experiencing new things and seeing new places.”