Medical experts join partners in Indonesia, improve pandemic response abilities

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Orlando Corpuz
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs

Hawaii Air National Guard (HIANG) Airmen from the 154th Medical Group detachment 1 conducted a Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) with counterparts from the Indonesian Armed Forces in Jakarta, Jun. 18-20. 

The SMEE focussed on military medical response to a biological pandemic and was part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP) which links a state's National Guard with a partner nation in support of mutual interests.

“The Pandemic Subject Matter Exchange is a premiere program for the Hawaii National Guard State Partnership Program,” said Lt. Col. James Faumuina, 154 MDG Det 1 commander,. “Through this engagement we’re able to bring together experts from both Indonesia and the State of Hawaii in the areas of pandemic detection, response, and mitigation.”

The Hawaii delegation consisted of eight medical Airmen from the medical detachment, a medical operations officer from the Hawaii Army National Guard and two experts from Hawaii civilian agencies: Hawaii Disaster Management Assistance Team (DMAT) and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HIEMA).

Topics ranging from pandemic detection, crisis planning, logistics and response operations were discussed during the three-day engagement. Visits to the Indonesia Health Crisis Center of the Ministry of Health and the National Hospital for Infection Central allowed for close examination of how pandemic response is conducted in Indonesia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a pandemic as a worldwide spread of a new disease. In an increasingly interconnected world, the threat of another pandemic is ever present; collaboration is needed to build capability of nations to respond to the next pandemic. 

“When you’re talking about a worldwide spread of a disease, one of the big things is to have cross border relationships and to be able to gather information and to be able to share information,” said Maj. Timothy Hiura, 154 MDG Det 1 physician. “It’s through learning from each other’s strengths and weaknesses, from the teaching of our methods and the learning of theirs that partnerships are forged.”

For island communities such as Indonesia and Hawaii, their relative isolation does not exclude them from a pandemic; both are world wide destinations and crossroads for tourists and business travelers alike. 

“If an outbreak is detected, having capacity to respond is key,” Hiura said. “The quantity and quality of the response can make a huge difference.”

As an enhanced-response-force-package unit (CERF-P), 154 MDG Det 1 capabilities make it uniquely qualified for pandemic response. In addition to military medical training as a CERF-P unit, many members have civilian occupations as doctors, nurses, first-responders, or other medical specialties; a majority of the subject matter experts were drill-status Airmen.

For Capt. Jorena Young, 154 MDG Det 1 clinical nurse, the experience provided valuable insight not normally available in Hawaii.

“I feel we have a lot to learn from other countries’ militaires because we haven’t experienced it, especially in Hawaii we don’t see as much as they do…they have 17,000 plus islands they have to take care of in Indonesia, while we only have our eight,” Young said. “They have a lot more experience that we can learn from and take those lessons back with us.” 

Rounding out the team were experts from civilian Hawaii emergency response agencies. 

Sentiment from Edward Caballero, a civilian medic and Hawaii Disaster Medical Assistance Team operations branch leader mirrored what many involved with the SMEE felt; that collaboration improves pandemic response.

“I think that the collaboration between the state partners was incredible,” Caballero said. “There was mutual understanding from both sides. It was reassuring to know that the military is developing these partnerships should the unfortunate situation occur where we need additional resources beyond our capabilities.”

Although the SMEE was in execution of the National Guard State Partnership Program, according to Faumuina, it supported the larger DoD initiative of Global Health Engagement (GHE).

“We’ve been working with our counterparts in Indonesia for three years now,” Faumuina said. “The level of communication and exchange between our two countries has cultivated a relationship where we’re moving towards unison to further the US Indo-Pacom Theater Support Cooperation Plan, through the strategy of GHE.”

The exchange continues in September when Indonesian medical experts visit the HIANG.