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Coalition health care a combined effort

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan -- Members of the 376th Expeditionary Medical Group and South Korea's 924th Medical Group work together on a simulated patient during an exercise at the hospital here.  (South Korean army photo by Cpl. Hongyeon Kim)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan -- Members of the 376th Expeditionary Medical Group and South Korea's 924th Medical Group work together on a simulated patient during an exercise at the hospital here. (South Korean army photo by Cpl. Hongyeon Kim)

MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan (AFPN) -- The mission of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing here is to project combat airpower in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. But that mission is not possible without a fit, healthy team of international coalition members operating as a cohesive team.

Medics from the 376th Expeditionary Medical Group and South Korea’s 924th Medical Group help ensure servicemembers here are fit to fight.

The U.S. side has basic primary medical capabilities, including internal medicine, family practice, flight medicine, general dentistry, nursing, public health and bioenvironmental care.

So it is, in essence, a microcosm of a fixed U.S. Air Force base, with one exception. Here, Korean forces add general surgery and orthopedic surgery to the U.S. medical services.

General surgery doctors treat such injuries as broken arms or legs, hernias, hemorrhoids, or appendix or gall bladder troubles.

Without that capability, servicemembers would have to be sent out of theater, said Col. (Dr.) Roger Hesselbrock, 376th EMDG commander.

With the operating room and support staff comes an in-patient capability as well as the ability to lodge coalition members, if necessary.

The Korean specialists also bring some unique and specialized forms of medical care to the fight, Hesselbrock said.

They offer a unique discipline, Oriental medicine, which is a specialty that gets a lot of business here with nontraditional treatments such as acupuncture and massage, among others. It is a nice complement to traditional medicine, he said.

And while the nontraditional disciplines are nice to have, the U.S. and Korean staffs both said they understand their core mission.

“Basically, we’re a support function, and we’re here to keep people healthy and keep them fit so that they can do their mission,” Hesselbrock said.

“If people aren’t medically good-to-go, then missions don’t get accomplished, refueling fighters doesn’t happen, aircraft don’t get launched, and people and resupply cargo don’t get downrange,” he said.

The majority of the team’s mission is treating fairly mundane ills like simple, uncomplicated infections, respiratory infections and gastrointestinal diseases like diarrhea and vomiting.

But they also see their share of injuries. Even though most of the injuries are minor, occasionally they require more intervention.

“I’ve witnessed medical personnel from a number of nations, all of them around the same patient, working in harmony for the patient’s care,” he said. “What’s really neat for me as a commander is I really didn’t have to be telling anybody what to do -- they do it.

“It gives you great confidence that if we did have a bigger situation, like a mass casualty situation, we’re ready for it,” Hesselbrock said.

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