U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony Rios, preventive medicine mentor with the Joint Medical Operations Center, inspects an Afghan military dining facility at Camp Stone, Afghanistan, July 14, 2012. The JMOC assists Afghans in developing a sustainable medical support system. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Greg C. Biondo)
CAMP STONE, Afghanistan (July 31, 2012) — Most people wouldn’t define success as working themselves out of a job, but for the Joint Medical Operations Cell located in western Afghanistan, that was exactly their goal.
What began as a 20-person-strong medical team in 2006 has now dwindled down to six people as medical advisors and mentors transition all medical responsibilities at the Afghan National Army Hospital and the Afghan National Police Regional Training Center to Afghan control.
The transition of responsibilities includes patient administration, anesthesiology, internal medicine, radiology, laboratory and the intensive care unit.
“The goal of the JMOC is to assist the Afghans in developing a sustainable regional military health care delivery system,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Janice Roach, JMOC commander deployed from the Naval Operational Support Center in Louisville, Ky. “Our team has been awesome, and everyone has the knowledge base and sincere desire to help the Afghans achieve their mission and sustain their medical operations far into the future. They’re ready to take over.”
The JMOC has only a few programs left to transition before they can consider their job complete. Two of the most critical ones are the biomedical equipment technician program and the preventive medicine program.
Maj. Jose Diaz and Staff Sgt. Anthony Rios, JMOC preventive medicine mentors, provide mentorship to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police on proper food inspection, sanitation of the camps, communicable disease control and other preventive medicine programs.
“Using the skills I’ve learned in the Air Force, I’m able to help them build up their program here in Afghanistan,” said Rios, a native of Dallas, Texas. “I hope they take what we’ve taught them and use it on a daily basis. I trust that they will be able to use those skills and if an outbreak were to happen, they would know what to do.”
On June 15, Afghan National Police Col. Abdiani Toryaiai, 606th Ansar Regional Command vice commander, signed the first official food safety and sanitation directive for the Western Region of Afghanistan after weeks of coordination with JMOC mentors.
“This is important for when ANP preventive medicine technicians inspect food and food facilities; they now have an official document signed by the regional commander stating the standards they will follow,” said Diaz, who is deployed from the 47th Medical Group at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. “This is now public health policy, which gives them the authority to enforce the standards.
“The ANA preventive medicine technicians are very pleased with this new directive,” Diaz continued. “Now they have the backing of their commander when they go into these facilities and the ability to enforce health standards to ensure things are done the proper way.”
Biomedical equipment advisors and mentees also work together, allowing the Afghan technicians how to troubleshoot and fix the equipment in the hospital. The skills learned are crucial to ensuring Afghans and their families get the medical care they need.
“One of the most important goals of the (biomedical equipment technician) program is to maintain the equipment to allow it to reach its full life expectancy,” said Petty Officer 2ndClass Joseph Nededog, JMOC biomedical equipment advisor and corpsman from U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka, Japan. “One of our biggest challenges is the lack of resources available here. We have to adapt, overcome, and find a way to get it done and ensure what equipment we do have continues to operate.”
Afghan National Army biomedical equipment technicians attend school for two years to learn basic electronic theory and then another 90 days of hands-on-training with JMOC advisors before being sent to work in smaller hospitals throughout the province.
“The ultimate goal is for them to work in the Afghan National Army hospitals in the provinces and keep them running,” said Nededog, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii. “Our goal for this training to give them a good, solid platform to build off of.”
The Afghan medical team hopes to build off the JMOCs support and advice; however, they recognize there are still significant challenges ahead of them.
“The staff in our hospitals need higher education, better training and more experience,” said Afghan National Army Col. Abdul Ghani, Herat Regional Hospital acting commander. “The mentors are very good; they show us the problem and how to fix it and we learn from that. Once the advisors leave, I intend to continue the mentor program to see the staff are properly trained and prepared.”
The Afghan medical leaders working with the JMOC expressed their appreciation for the mentoring. Officials said they feel will have an impact long after coalition forces have left Afghanistan.
“We are really appreciative for all the help, training and documents the U.S. has given us,” said Afghan National Army Maj. Gull Fada, Herat Regional Hospital deputy assistant. “The mentorship means so much to us, and we are thankful for their assistance in these efforts. I hope people realize we have a good system in place now. One day we look forward to solving all our problems and have a safe and peaceful country.”