Combined Military Team Support Beyond the Horizon – Panama 2015

Combined Military Team Support Beyond the Horizon – Panama 2015

By Dialogo
July 23, 2015

That training is worth it.

A combined team of Military Information Support Operations (MISO) and Civil Affairs (CA) successfully supported a medical detachment from the Missouri Army National Guard (MOARNG) and the Panamanian Ministry of Health in information and civil-military operations before and during BTH-Panama 2015.

Beyond the Horizon is a U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)-sponsored exercise involving engineering and medical projects in Central and South America and the Caribbean each year. These exercises involve various governmental agencies on both, the U.S. side and those of the partner nations. Additionally, non-governmental agencies often volunteer personnel or other resources. This year, in addition to other projects, the Missouri Army National Guard sent a medical detachment to set up general medicine clinics in three locations throughout the Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous community in western Panama. The goals of the project were multifold and included supporting the Government of Panama and providing a lasting benefit to the people of Panama while also increasing the operational experience of U.S. Forces.

From the start, the exercise was set up to fully support the priorities and goals of the Panamanian Government and especially the Panamanian Ministry of Health (MINSA). MINSA identified the areas where the clinics were set up throughout Ngobe Bugle as their areas of greatest need where additional medical services could make the biggest impact. While the medical detachment brought 49 doctors, nurses, and other health professionals to provide general medicine, dental care, ophthalmological services, and pharmaceutical expertise, MINSA brought providers for general medicine, pharmaceuticals, dental care, nutrition, health education, immunizations, infant massage, physical therapy, and ultrasound. They also provided personnel for triage, screening, and traffic control. U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH), a SOUTHCOM component, also provided other supporting elements, such as translators from the Illinois National Guard and Military Information Support Operations and Civil Affairs from the U.S. Army Reserve.

While the U.S. and MINSA medical teams worked relentlessly to provide high quality and heartfelt care to the indigenous people of the Ngöbe-Bugle tribe, the exercise support team from Army South worked diligently to ensure logistics and administrative requirements were met. Panamanian security forces and governmental representatives directed their efforts to support security and other requirements as they came up. In total, over 5,000 patients were seen and treated, and the MISO and CA team worked in the background before and during the clinic with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy and MINSA.

“Operation Beyond the Horizon was a challenge for each and every Soldier of our outfit. We saw a large volume of patients (more than 5,000 in 9 days of clinic visits) that required basic to advanced diagnoses capabilities,” said Captain Dave McVicker, MOARNG nurse practitioner.

In many operational environments, MISO and CA work mostly independently. However, it was decided that they would work side by side on this occasion under the guidance of ARSOUTH Inofrmation Operations Chief Ray Alfaro and Major Melanie Kirchhoff, the MISO team lead for the mission. For both team missions, significant preparation of the area of operations is required beforehand to attain quality effects. CA requires time to attain and build relationships with NGOs that come to fruition during critical mission points. MISO requires equal time periods to build relationships and repeat important messaging for meaningful responses from the population. This is a challenging process for MISO and CA teams in the Army Reserves.

“They did a great job coordinating all the sites, coordinating operations between our leaders and host nation leaders, and helping with translating as well as logistical challenges,”said Cpt. McVicker.

When a mission like BTH takes place, the training and operational experience is invaluable, but critically altered if enough lead time isn’t built into the mission plans. “We were able to achieve a high degree of satisfaction of our time spent in Panama because the ground work was laid well before we arrived,” said Cpt. McVicker. The MISO and CA unit got the word out that we were going to be there and the people showed up. Not just patients but the MINSA staff also,”he added.

MISO and CA team leaders decided before the event that in order to conserve and share resources, their teams would work in teams composed of one MISO Soldier, one CA Soldier, and one Panamanian Police Officer. That way, they could have two teams and provide forward coverage before the clinics started, coverage during the clinics, and follow up with key leaders/key communicators after the clinic ended in a staggered schedule. It was highly successful! ARSOUTH laid communications equipment on vehicles and dedicated force protection assets that were instrumental in the successful execution of the mostly autonomous mission schedule.

“Operations, such as Beyond the Horizon, help solidify our belief that we can operate in a challenging environment and make a difference for the people who need our care,” said Cpt. McVicker.