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Healing hands cross international borders

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs

Two members from the New Hampshire Air National Guard participated in a medical subject matter expert exchange in El Salvador from March 7-11.

The exchange covered self-aid and buddy care as well as basic information for first responders.

“We laid the ground work by covering the physiology of trauma and continued to build upon that throughout the week,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John, New Hampshire Air National Guard flight medic.  “Our goal for this exchange was to keep it low-key and fun so everyone involved could stay engaged.”

According to U.S. Southern Command, the combatant command responsible for Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, it is exchanges that assist our regional partners in strengthening defense institutions and building a group of professionals committed to working together.

For everyone involved, the timing for this exchange couldn’t be more perfect.

“Easter is a huge holiday for this part of the hemisphere,” added John.  “A lot of people will have time off to celebrate the holiday and that normally leads to an increase in response cases.  So being able to come here and exchange medical techniques with the Salvadorans right now is helping them prepare for emergency situations that normally happen at this time of the year.”

Recognizing cultural differences and local information, like major celebrations, has been critical to the success of the State Partnership Program.

The National Guard’s State Partnership Program links National Guard units in the U.S. and Territories with Partner Nations.  The State Partnership Program integrates exercises, overseas deployment training, and Regionally Aligned Forces activities to be conducted by partnering states.  Together, New Hampshire and El Salvador, enjoy a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship that supports both U.S. Southern Command and embassy security cooperation objectives, by building capacities and capabilities within partner nation security forces.

“Because of the State Partnership Program we have been able to create and maintain personal relationships with several of the medics here at Ilopango Air Base,” said John.  “I’ve met several of the medics participating in this exchange from previous events.  Having the opportunity and time to develop these long-term relationships has helped us understand each other and communicate in ways that are meaningful and memorable.”

According to John, the goal of this exchange was continue building on past interactions and establishing new relationships with the Salvadoran airmen.  By focusing on this relationship, John has found that the exchange of ideas and procedures tends to me more productive. 

“This is a completely different culture than what we are used to,” said John.  “We cannot approach them the same way we would a group of U.S. Airmen.  To connect with them on a personal and professional level we had to adapt to their culture in order to meet our goals.”

“As with any group you need to find a way to keep the audience interested in what you’re saying,” added Maj. Helda Carey, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) international health specialist.  “With the Salvadorans we found out that they like to know the rationale behind methods and procedures.  By breaking through this hurdle we were able to keep their attention and they have been able to retain and build upon it through the course of our exchange.”  

As with all exchanges, lessons learned go both ways. Both sides have to compromise and adapt to each other and the environment.

“They have a thirst for knowledge,” said John.  “The Salvadorans want to emulate what we in the U.S. do.  They respect the U.S. military.”

“We cannot relate to them the same way as we would American forces,” added Carey.  “We tend to be more structured and utilize our forces in a different way than they do.  They do not have the same training or equipment that we do, but to see their adaptability is impressive.  They can achieve what we want them to without the conveniences we have.”

Air Forces Southern serves as the air component to U.S. Southern Command and is responsible for providing air and space capabilities in support of U.S. military partnerships across Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

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