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Reservists sharpen skills while providing medical assistance in the Caribbean

  • Published
  • By Chloe Arevalo

For years, members of the Air Force Reserve have been integral to the Lesser Antilles Medical Assistance Team by helping provide care for patients across medical specialties in island nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility.

This year, Reservists traveled to Suriname, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Kitts and Nevis in February, and over the span of eight weeks increased their readiness while supporting underserved communities.

Air Force-led Global Health Engagement activities increasingly use Reserve Component personnel and units. The Air Force Reserve’s support of LAMAT offers a powerful opportunity for practicing expeditionary medical skills while helping with force retention. This year, the medical team performed more than 6,000 procedures on 3,500 patients.

Col. Ann M. McCain, the command surgeon for Air Force Reserve Command, said GHE activities are a great fit for the Reserve that align with AFRC senior leadership’s vision of developing combat-ready Airmen.

“Participating in GHE provides our Reserve Airmen the opportunity to engage in medical humanitarian assistance efforts in underserved communities,” McCain said. “In addition, GHE provides a platform to increase the clinical currency, competency and medical readiness of our Airmen.”

During the LAMAT mission in Suriname, Staff Sgt. Jasmine Abalos, 349th Medical Squadron dental technician, Travis Air Force Base, California, accomplished skills sustainment requirements as part of the comprehensive medical readiness program. Abalos worked with Reservists from various bases and built relationships with partner-nation counterparts.

She emphasized the importance of Reserve participation in GHE and how it can support force retention by providing novel experiences for Reservists – an important factor in medical force readiness.

“Participating in the LAMAT mission was something I looked forward to,” Abalos said. “It was exciting to have a new experience where I was immersed in a different country with diverse resources and individuals. Serving as a Reservist on this mission has pushed me to enhance my skills as an Airman and has provided invaluable preparation for potential future deployments. I believe that the presence of Air Force Reserve members in GHE efforts is crucial for maintaining readiness and skill proficiency as well as keeping our forces excited about the mission.”

Capt. Miranda Schmidt, 349th Aeromedical Staging Squadron pediatric intensive care unit nurse, explained that Air Force Reserve members offer a unique capability to the GHE by bringing a skillset they acquire while balancing their civilian and military careers.

“As Reservists, we have three main roles: our military duties, our civilian jobs and our family responsibilities,” she said. “Because of this, we are skilled in managing multiple tasks and have a greater understanding of the bigger picture.”

While working in a pediatric intensive care unit in Suriname, Schmidt provided care to a 3-week-old patient who had been in the unit with a heart condition since birth.

“During the last day of the mission, I provided extensive education to the family which helped the parents understand their child’s care and allowed them to gain more confidence,” she said. “The most profound moment was when I assisted them in holding their baby for the first time. Setting them up for success for their future was truly rewarding.”

In addition to facilitating knowledge exchange, interoperability and the demonstration of Air Force Reserve involvement, the LAMAT mission also served as a platform for Reserve members to cultivate relationships and skills.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to have participated in LAMAT,” Schmidt said. “Looking ahead, I am enthusiastic about future GHE opportunities. By consistently supporting our global partners, we bolster force retention and fuel the passion within Reservists to remain prepared and eager to serve.”

(Arevalo provides strategic communications for the USAF International Health Specialist Program.)