NEWS | March 16, 2016

Medical subject matter expert exchange, a first for some

By By Tech. Sgt. Heather R. Redman 12th Air Force Public Affairs

Two medical technicians from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, joined members from 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) and the New Hampshire Air National Guard on a one-week medical subject matter expert exchange to El Salvador from March 7-11.

For Staff Sgt. Karina Cortes and Senior Airman Jacob Radford, 628th Medical Operations Group medical technicians, stationed at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., the trip was their first-time exchanging ideas and concepts with a partner nation in Central America.

"I really didn't know what to expect," said Cortes. "I had a better idea as the exchange got closer as far as what information we were exchanging, but I didn't know how well the Salvadoran's were going to receive the information we were presenting or what information they were going to present to us."

"I had zero clue of what to expect," added Radford.  "I knew this trip was going to be an exchange of first responder tactics to non-medical professionals, but I other than that, I wasn't sure what to expect."

The pair was recommended by their commander Lt. Col. Brian Neese, 628th Medical Operations Squadron, who previously worked as an international health specialist with 12 AF (AFSOUTH) surgeon general's office. 

"I recommended Cortes and Radford for this mission because they have the right combination of technical clinical skill and cross-cultural open-mindedness to excel in a global health engagement mission with an important partner nation," said Nesse.

Nesse wanted his Airmen to better understand the organization they are a part of and to see its projection beyond the clinic they work in.

"I want them to understand how important it is to build friendships as well as increase capacities in our partner nations in order to fulfill our own national security strategy," Nesse added.

Nesse also wanted Cortes and Radford to understand why the Air Force has a vested interest in building up our partner nation capacity.

"It is important for these young medical technicians to see for themselves how our military really works, how we prepare the battle space through phase zero operations and the links between our State Department and Defense Department as we build partnerships and build partner nation capacity in areas of responsibility around the world," said Nesse. 

Part of the exchange with the Salvadorans, included briefing some basic first responder techniques and procedures.  For Cortes, it was this part of the exchange that was the most nerve-wracking.

"I was definitely apprehensive about briefing," said Cortes. "I'm not used to getting up in front of people and speaking, and there were times I felt I didn't have enough experience to expand upon the information I was presenting.  But, all of my training did come in handy and I was able to expand upon the concepts and topics I was briefing on."

Radford's experience in briefing was completely different.

"I liked the attention," said Radford.  "Briefing wasn't a problem because I enjoy talking and interacting with people. But like Cortes, I just wish I had more experience to bring to the table."

"Executing a successful security cooperation event requires more than professional technical skill or even foreign language capability," Neese added.  "It requires the right attitude; one of openness and warmth, of curiosity and goodwill. These two Airmen have those qualities in spades.  They were excited to meet their Salvadoran counterparts, eager to learn from them and see how they do their jobs, and ready to share our tactics, techniques, and procedures with them in turn. They sought to connect with our Central American colleagues and had a wonderful experience in the process."

Although activities like the medical subject matter expert exchange provide an opportunity to help our partner nations increase regional security capacity, it also offers an occasion to build trust and lasting relationships that will become force multipliers should a crisis occur within the U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility.

"I thought the outcome was better than anything I could have expected," said Cortes.  "The Salvadorans were extremely motivated and willing to learn from us and about us and I'm happy to say they were receptive to the information we provided them."

As with all exchanges, lessons learned go both ways. Both sides have to compromise and adapt to each other and the environment.

"The biggest thing I learned was that despite their limited resources and training they are very good at adjusting what we showed them to fit within their resources," said Radford.

"I am ecstatic to have seen two outstanding 628 MDOS Airmen support this critical AFSOUTH mission and for Joint Base Charleston to have provided a small but significant boost in meeting Combatant Commander theater security cooperation goals," added Neese.

Air Forces Southern serves as the air component to U.S. Southern Command and is responsible for providing air and space capabilities in support of U.S. military partnerships across Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.