Balikatan 2015: Multinational Team Teaches Health Workers First Responder Skills

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By Staff Sgt. Chris Hubenthal | April 24, 2015

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines -- Health workers attending exercise Balikatan’s First Responder Training Course prepared to put their patient care skills to the test as an announcement echoed throughout the training Coliseum.

“You are in a supermarket in Zamboanga,” said a voice over loudspeaker. “You heard an explosion. Your team is the first to arrive in the area. There are people on the ground, some moaning in pain. There are probably more but only a few for the most part are in one piece. The scene is horrific, and there is a danger of another explosion in a few minutes.”

U.S. military and Armed Forces of the Philippines Cooperative Health Engagement instructors trained 179 health workers in the surrounding communities by having them apply their skills during mass casualty response scenarios April 22.

During the training, the AFP facilitated the course with the U.S. forces assisting. A week prior the U.S. military CHE team prepared their AFP counterparts to lead the instruction for the first responder training course.

“This event is where the new trainers, that we trained last week during the train-the-trainer course, are teaching,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Gary Held, 374th Medical Operations Squadron medical technician and CHE instructor. “They are teaching the exact same subjects that we taught them in going through mass casualty scenarios, stuff that might actually happen here, like overturned buses or an earthquake for instance. The new trainers are running with it, everything that we taught them.”

Together, shoulder-to shoulder, the multinational team trained community members to more effectively respond to a mass casualty occurrence.

“What we are trying to accomplish is that we want those health workers or rescuers to be able to address an emergency situation,” said Philippine Air Force 1st Lt. Catherine Joy E. Abaga, Nurse Corps, 570th Composite Tactical Wing and exercise Balikatan CHE medical coordinator. “We want them to have their own independence in their own units or their own barangay [or village] so they are able to have a group of people who are ready to respond to any situation, such as disasters.”

Abaga explained what U.S. and AFP forces are hoping participants in the training can walk away with.

“We want them to develop the skills, the attitude, and the knowledge to be able to do something for others who are in their barangay to extend immediate help,” Abaga said. “This has been a very productive activity especially for this community because not all of our participants are inclined medically. What we can do is equip them with proper knowledge in addressing the different threats, man-made or natural.”

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Justin Stinson, 15th Medical Operations Squadron independent duty medical technician and CHE instructor, explained his experience working with AFP instructors.

“Working with the Armed Forces of the Philippines has been a great experience,” Stinson said. “I actually learned a few medical techniques here that we don’t use in the U.S. because in the Philippines, they are so resourceful. They can take a cloth and make it into something like an ankle brace, something we may not think of. We have the capability of having medical supplies in the U.S. but being here they may not always have access to those things.”

Abaga also shared her experience in working with U.S. Forces.

“We work with them easily,” Abaga said. “I’ve seen through both the Philippines and our U.S. counterparts that there is enthusiasm in that we’re working for just one thing. Race or nationality didn’t matter at all. What we created was good teamwork.”

This year marks the 31st iteration of the exercise, which is an annual Philippines-U.S. bilateral military training exercise and humanitarian civic assistance engagement.