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NEWS | July 15, 2011

Guard members use MEDFLAG 11 to strengthen partnership, share ideas

By the North Dakota National Guard

ACCRA, Ghana - As MEDFLAG 11 rolled into its third day here, members of the North Dakota National Guard's 814th Medical Company are readily serving next to service members of the Ghanaian Armed Forces.

Sponsored by U.S. Army Africa, the bilateral MEDFLAG 11 exercise is strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Ghana through 10 days of collaborative training and sharing of medical expertise, as well as joint humanitarian civic assistance in local communities, officials said.

"We will be teaching classes, sharing ideas with the Ghana Armed Forces, and sharing expertise," said Army Sgt. Stuart Hammer, a North Dakota National Guard combat medic and training non-commissioned officer for the 814th Medical Company.

"When we participated in MEDFLAG 10 last year, we expected to be doing a lot of the teaching, but it turned out we learned a lot more from them than we ever could have expected," he said.

Since 2004, the North Dakota Guard has developed a professional relationship with Ghana as part of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program. This program aligns states with partner countries encouraging the development of economic, political and military ties.

Over the years, Ghana Armed Forces members and North Dakota National Guardsmen have traveled to their partner's country to share information and training techniques.

As both Ghana and North Dakota deal with threatening floods each year, a Ghanaian soldier and director of their National Disaster Management Organization visited North Dakota earlier this year to witness first-hand how the Guard responds to natural disasters.

This connection between North Dakota and Ghana makes the opportunity to work in Ghanaian communities a special bond between the two teams.

"For years, we have been developing a relationship with Ghana through the State Partnership Program. That relationship has benefitted both entities immensely as we define how we do things, learn from one another, and receive new opportunities to train in an overseas operational environment," said Army Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general.

"As our 814th Medical Company takes part in MEDFLAG 11, I know the partnership will continue to grow as we refine and improve our mutual response on a global scale."

MEDFLAG 11 is broken down into two main segments, to include classroom instruction and conducting humanitarian civil assistance, a joint clinic that allows local clinics to provide treatment for more patients than it can normally accommodate.

For the classroom segment, both U.S. and Ghanaian forces are attending classes instructed by dentist technicians, veterinarians and combat medics from both countries.

The 814th Medical Company is responsible for teaching medical classes for the U.S. portion. Classes include how to treat a casualty with a chest injury, administering treatment for burns, transporting casualties, and performing a proper patient assessment.

While many of the skills discussed in these classes are combat-specific, service members will later use many skills from this training during the humanitarian civil assistance portion of the exercise.

"In order to know what needs to be fixed, we need to go through the patient assessment," said Army Maj. Curt Kroh, executive officer for the 814th Medical Company. "This is why patient assessment training during academics is vital to the later mission."

"Patient assessment, which is fact gathering to find what is causing the patient's illness, is really where the rubber hits the road for medics," Hammer said.

Later in the exercise, the humanitarian civil assistance sites will be similar to a walk-in clinic, treating common illnesses such as coughs, colds and joint pain.

Not only does MEDFLAG help the local communities, but it is giving the state of North Dakota a chance to strengthen its bond with its sister country while also improving the standards of operation for all Soldiers involved.

"I am glad my unit will have experiences helping others while working with the Ghana Armed Forces," Kroh said. "We have had to work the logistics and plan for being far away from home, which will help us be ready for deployment."

This collaboration of expertise will help both teams learn and incorporate new techniques into their routines while allowing them the chance to see not only what their teams can improve on, but what they are already doing right.

"Our Soldiers train and provide medical care to our Guardsmen within the state," Sprynczynatyk said of the 814th. "Being able to incorporate their international counterparts through MEDFLAG will increase that care and instruction.

"Our Guardsmen are expanding their knowledge base with other nations in providing care, experience different medical techniques and also embracing the opportunity to provide civilian humanitarian assistance to the local populace."