News: AF medical group in Kyrgyzstan inactivates
Story by Staff Sgt. Travis Edwards
TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan - The 376th Expeditionary Medical Group here inactivated during a ceremony April 5, 2014, ending another era of providing world-class care to troops transitioning through Kyrgyzstan.
"You were the panacea that kept our Airmen in the fight, enabling combat airpower in Afghanistan," said Col. John C. Millard, 376th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "After a successful finish to your mission, it feels great to see the finish line and to be able to send you home to your families and loved ones."
As the main medical facility for troops coming in and out of Afghanistan since 2001, the 376th EMDG's mission was to provide routine, urgent and emergency care to anyone who walked through their doors. This task included providing recommendations on whether certain patients from the war in Afghanistan should be aeromedically evacuated to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
"We were here to support onward movement: getting troops to Afghanistan and ensuring they were completely ready and healthy to serve," said Dr. (Capt.) Dave Bereda, 376th EMDG chief medical officer and physician adviser to the medical group's commander. "The staff here and in the other [support] groups [at the Transit Center]; we were all here to support the deployers."
Some of that support came in the form of mental health assessments, which if not identified, could have catastrophic consequences during a deployment.
"It is an invaluable opportunity for us to have a facility that can assist someone if they are able to self-identify having problems." said Lt. Col. Kirk Rowe, 376th EMDG clinical psychologist. "We had one case where a service member's anxiety didn't emerge until the person arrived here; to be able to catch it here prevents it from getting worse, stops the mission from breaking down and gets that person the help needed."
He said the Transit Center has likely had many such stories throughout the 12 and a half years it's been an active transient base. However, just like 376th EMDG inactivation on Dec. 1, 1958, the group must again dissolve to only what is necessary, until the day every Airman is out of Krygyzstan.
"They don't teach you how to draw down a medical center," said Bereda, a native of Evansville, Ind. "We know how to run a medical facility; we know how to set one up, now we have to apply that ability in a backwards capacity."
Aside from leaving the right amount of care for Airmen still stationed at the TCM, Bereda added he is grateful that his first deployment has allowed him to, "See how a military hospital really functions."
"We've helped treat about 14,000 patients each year since we opened," said Col. James Knowles, 376th EMDG commander. "The current team and the medical professionals who came before us can pride themselves in having provided the right amount of care for each individual."
Knowles continued, "It is because we care about each of our patients. They're not just another number, but people - individuals: Because they matter, and need to be well and healthy to continue their mission."
People the 376th EMDG Airmen have been caring for since the group was re-designated in 1952.
In 2013, the 376th EMDG cared for more than 12,700 patients, responded to 85 ambulatory requests, cared for 23 military working dogs and assisted with 87 aeromedical evacuations, all with only 38 caregivers on staff. They also identified a creeping influenza outbreak, which infected about 15 percent of the base.
"Within a few days, people were coming into the clinic with the same symptoms; the signs pointed to the flu," said Knowles. "Our public health team noticed the trend and enacted a plan to treat and confine those who were affected by the virus. Their efforts ensured the combat support mission here continued uninterrupted."
After containing the virus, they sent off samples to U.S.-based, disease-control agencies. The samples from the Transit Center will then be evaluated and tested along with other samples from around the world. Those samples will be used in effort to determine which strains of the disease are most deadly and contagious in order to manufacture the 2015 global flu vaccine.
However, providing world-class medical care wasn't the only priority for the medical group. These Airmen also participated in mutual training with the Kyrgyz Republic Ministry of Defense via 72 military-to-military exchanges.
"These exchanges provided a unique opportunity to work with our Kyrgyz partners; a chance not many people get to experience," said Knowles, who deployed here from the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Ala. "It was exciting to be part of an era that played such an integral role in the future of the medical care in this country."
Additionally, until the base closes, there will only be enough medical Airmen available to handle urgent and emergency care.
"There is still plenty to do in the coming months," said Knowles. "The professionalism everyone is used to will still be here, we're just going to have a smaller footprint."
He added that the embassy will help with the footprint reduction by taking some of the medical equipment not needed here, reducing waste.
"We've always had a good relationship [with the embassy], this is just one more way we can be good stewards of taxpayer money," he added.
The close proximity and mutual understanding of the value of life allowed the people in both agencies, who were once strangers, to work together for the common good.
"It's all about the people you work with and meet," said Staff Sgt. Jessica D. Lincoln, 376th EMDG medical technician. "To work in a hospital you have to be a people-person, someone who is passionate about taking care of each person who comes in."
Lincoln, who is deployed from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, explained that it is also the people you work with who make a deployment worthwhile.
"We became a family very quickly and it will be hard to forget that," said Lincoln, a native of Dayton, Ohio.
The inactivation is part of the removal of U.S. forces from the Transit Center at Manas, before the lease ends on July 11, 2014, at the request of the Kyrgyz Republic.
"Closing down with bare minimums will prove to be challenging with the amount of people we'll have left," said Lincoln. "However, we'll always find a way to treat and care for our patients; it's what we do."
The history of the 376th EMDG dates back to May 1951, when it was constituted as the 376th Medical Squadron. It activated June 1, 1951 and then was redesigned as a medical group in 1952. In 1954, the group was redesigned as a tactical hospital where it was later inactivated on Dec. 1, 1958. The 376th EMDG known today received its re-designation and activation Dec. 4, 2001.
Bereda is deployed from Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.