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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | May 30, 2024

Michigan Guard, Liberia Conduct Casualty Response Exercise

By Capt. Andrew Layton, Michigan National Guard

DAUZON, Liberia – A joint team of Michigan Army and Air National Guard medical professionals worked with Armed Forces of Liberia staff to create a preliminary mass casualty response plan for the AFL’s 14 Military Hospital. 

The weeklong event culminated May 24 with exercise scenarios. About 40 AFL soldiers participated in the drills.

The Michigan team tapped its members’ military proficiency and experience in the civilian sector. The U.S. Soldiers and Airmen represented the 177th Regional Training Institute, 156th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 1-182d Field Artillery Regiment, and the Michigan ANG’s 127th Medical Group. U.S. Army and Air Force personnel from the U.S. Embassy – Monrovia Office of Security Cooperation and Team 3712, Southern European Task Force – Africa Civil Affairs Battalion, participated in the exercise as augmentees.

“We ran through three different exercise scenarios simulating the arrival of a large number of patients from various emergency situations,” said team leader U.S. Army Capt. Chelsey Downer, the Headquarters & Headquarters Detachment commander and instructor with the 177 RTI. In civilian life, Downer is a nurse practitioner. “Each time, we were very impressed with what we saw from the 14 Military Hospital staff.”

Memories of a real-world disaster are fresh for many Liberians. In December, a fuel tanker crashed and exploded alongside a highway in Bong County about 80 miles north of Monrovia, killing more than 50 people and injuring nearly 100 others. Staff at 14 Military Hospital received and treated 11 critically burned patients. 

“When that first group came [to the hospital], there was an initial shock,” said AFL Maj. Albertha Clark-Kollie, chief medical officer at 14 Military Hospital. “This tragedy is why so many of our team at the hospital were motivated [to participate in the scenarios]. They really wanted to be here.”

The 14 Military Hospital opened in September 2021 and is one of Liberia’s most impactful health care facilities. The number “14” is a tribute to former Liberian President George Weah, who wore the number during his legendary soccer career before entering politics.

The Michigan National Guard, linked with the AFL for 15 years through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, has supported the 14 Military Hospital with multiple visiting teams since the facility opened.

“This team didn’t just give us the fish; they taught us to catch fish also,” said AFL 2nd Lt. Alfred Diggs, a physician assistant and administrative officer at 14 Military Hospital. “We appreciate our U.S. partners and really try to give our all when they come to work with us.”

The Americans also donated medical supplies to the neighboring Edward Binyah Kesselly Barracks clinic, including alcohol swabs, allergy medications, breathing treatment medications, gloves, IV fluids, N95 masks, oxygen masks, silver nitrate sticks, and syringes for vaccine and blood draws. Before the 14 Military Hospital was built, the EBK clinic was used as the AFL’s major military medical facility.

In addition to the exercises, 14 Military Hospital’s emergency procedures for fire and evacuation were reviewed.

U.S. team members said working alongside West African partners was a mutual learning opportunity.

“I’m usually an out-of-the-box thinker,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Coats, an emergency medical technician and firefighter with the 156 ESB. “but this week, I learned a lot about ingenuity — specifically, what you need and don’t need to offer a high standard of care in our profession.”

“We never want to see another tanker explosion, but we are confident our partners in the AFL would be able to handle another worst-case situation very well,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Tracy Chapman, an instructor combat medic with the 177 RTI. “We could learn a thing or two from our partners.”

The U.S. team appreciated the perspective of AFL Sgt. Jesse Mender, a chaplain at 14 Military Hospital. “More sweat in training means less blood on the battlefield,” he said.

“For us, that was perfect,” said Downer. “We are definitely going to put that on the wall of our classroom when we get back to Michigan.”