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Vermont National Guard medical personnel work in Senegal

By Sgt. Avery Cunningham | 172nd Public Affairs Detachment | March 20, 2018

ZIGUINCHOR, Senegal – Vermont National Guard members mobilized to Senegal Feb. 4-23 to work with Senegalese medical personnel to obtain experience providing services as part of a medical readiness training exercise (MEDRETE).

Vermont is paired with Senegal as part of the State Partnership Program, a joint Department of Defense program managed by the National Guard Bureau, guided by the State Department and executed by the state adjutants general to link a state's National Guard with a partner nation's military and security forces in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship. The exercise presents an opportunity to build upon this relationship while also providing Soldiers training outside of the normal scope of operations. 

"The focus (of MEDRETE 18-1) is supposed to be on resuscitative care, damage control surgery, trauma type surgery, military combat surgeries," said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Bert Severin, a medic and the trip noncommissioned officer in charge with Joint Force Headquarters, Vermont National Guard. "Those are not elective. You have to wait for an accident or some kind of event before doing that surgery, so we've been doing their scheduled elective or necessary surgeries like prostate surgeries, hernia surgeries, myomectomies, and there was a cholecystectomy as well."

The surgeries the Guard members are conducting provide an educational opportunity for the medics. They train to give trauma care and to deal with combat injuries. Some have never seen an operating room before or assisted with a surgery.

"This is fantastic going both ways," said Capt. Kimberly Sorber, a physician's assistant assigned to Charlie Company, 186th Brigade Support Battalion, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain). "We are learning a lot. It's very humbling to see how much the Senegalese can do with resources that we probably take for granted. They're extremely accommodating and they are just as excited for us to be here as we are."

Working together allowed relationships to develop and strengthen between the U.S. service members and the Senegalese. The Senegalese medical professionals accommodate each National Guard member by playing to their strengths and experience in operations and patient care. They allowed the Guardsmen to become part of the team and operate with them seamlessly. 

"This morning, we came to the military clinic where there are four operations going on and this morning I was able to take part in an inguinal hernia repair," Sorber said. "It was the first time they allowed any female to do surgery at this hospital so that was a big deal for them."

Equipment repair is another element in this MEDRETE. The National Guard and Senegalese biotechnical equipment technicians share knowledge and cooperatively make repairs; the greatest difficulty they face is obtaining the required parts. 

"We came here to help any way we can. My job is to fix broken medical equipment here, and work with them and show them that we can have a working relationship," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Matthew T. LaVigne, a biomedical equipment technician assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing Medical Group. 

The Senegalese medical professionals work hard to overcome any concerns. Despite any difficulties they are able to provide medical care for the people of Ziguinchor. 

"They're working with the minimum by our standards, but they get it done," said Severin. "They're saving lives, and they're as well trained and as well-equipped as they can be."