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Task force of 62nd Medical units prepares for severe weather

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Two Joint Base Lewis-McChord units, the 227th Preventive Medicine Detachment and 551st Medical Logistics Company, are part of that task force and are training for different weather scenarios.

During a field training exercise here, June 19-21, the 227th PMD theoretically deployed to Guiria, Venezuela, where a tropical storm raked the coast with high winds and torrential rain forcing 1,000 residents to evacuate.

For the Venezuela scenario, Soldiers were tasked with surveying a location with abandoned buildings. They checked for dead animals around the area, put up air sampling kits to test the air, tested for chemicals in the soil, and set up mosquito traps.

Mosquitos are known to spawn in stagnant water and cause widespread vector borne illnesses such as malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever. The warm climate and stagnant water left from a severe flood in Venezuela, the scenario used in the training offered many real world concerns the units may face if called on to respond to a disaster. Once in an area with these concerns, preventive medicine would perform an occupational environment health assessment and then react to the concern.

"The type of mosquito we catch tonight will confirm whether there is a presence of the mosquito that is the vector for yellow fever and dengue fever," said Capt. Katherine Kinder, an environmental science and engineering officer and commander for 227th PMD.

For training purposes, the 227th PMD sprayed mineral oil to simulate spraying mosquito infested areas with pesticides.

"Once we determine that it is safe for people to live here, we would measure the buildings to determine if there is enough square footage to house the population," said Pfc. Richard Bower, preventive medicine specialist, 227th PMD.

"We would then setup areas where people can shower and have a dining facility," Kinder said.

Training included performing a water reconnaissance mission to survey an area and set up reverse osmosis water purification units to purify water for a potable water source for the displaced residents.

"We collected some water samples from the river and tested different levels for total dissolved solids in water," explained Spc. Joshua Jones, preventive medicine specialist, 227th PMD.

"When you have a lot of flooding of water you have a lot of different considerations like water borne illnesses or containment water and people's exposure to those types of things," said Maj. Laura Johnson, Future Plans and Operations Officer, 62nd Medical Brigade. "Might be a little different if you respond to a tornado verses flooding from a hurricane. If it's a hurricane we might order some additional things to meet us there depending on the mission."

This mission gives the units a sense of purpose to their training and it puts them in the mindset to be ready to go at anytime.

"I haven't had a chance to deploy, so it feels good that I will actually be able to help people," Jones said. "It is one of the reasons I joined the Army. It's an opportunity I probably would never get if I weren't in the Army."

The severe weather mission is not just for overseas disasters but also to help out across America should the Department of Defense be called. The units prepare to pack and respond within 24 hours when alerted.

"It makes me feel proud to be a part of this mission because the American population will get to see the Army in a different light and nothing bad can come out of us helping people," said 1st Sgt. Tony Flanagan, 551st MLC.

Currently on standby, both units maintain their equipment and frequently train to leave JBLM in a moments notice in response to severe weather emergencies overseas and in the U.S.

"Readiness is a huge aspect," said 1st Lt. Shamai Sullivan, company executive officer, 551st MLC. "We are ready to deploy with 90 percent of our personnel and equipment."

Regardless of what type of mission and environment it is, equipment needed for the operation will be taken with the unit.

"We have everything from large flatbed vehicles to forklifts," said Staff Sgt. Jeramy Aponte, medical logistics specialist, 551st MLC. "We also have refrigerator containers where we would store medications and test tubes, shelving units, toolkits and trailers where our mechanics would do maintenance."

"We just came back from the field where we practiced sling load training," said Spc. Luidgi Muhsen, logistics specialist, 551st MLC. The training included loading equipment and medical supplies on a pallet and attaching it to a Black Hawk helicopter as it hovered in the air.

"Depending on the type of equipment we have and how heavy the load is will determine the type of aircraft used," Aponte added.

The 551st medical maintenance section supports all of the medical maintenance for the U.S. Forces Command units on post, and because it does the Soldiers practice their skills every day.

"Regardless of what type of mission it is, our job will stay the same, it's just the environment that will change," Flanagan said.

Kinder explained that since the Venezuela scenario destroyed homes, the residents would be relocated for at least 30 days.

If citizens affected by a disaster need to temporarily be relocated, the severe weather task force would determine a suitable location before moving any of the residents.

"We tested the air, soil, water and pests to determine if people can live in an area," Bower said.

The governor can call out the National Guard when a natural disaster strikes in his state, but when more resources and personnel are needed, like when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, the SWTF responds to assist.

Depending on the mission, weather and location, the units can do anything from cleanup to humanitarian aid. In the event something should happen, these units stand ready to go.

Photo: Sgt. Sarah Enos

Spc. Joshua Jones, left, and Pfc. Richard Bower, both preventive medicine specialists, 227th Preventive Medicine Detachment, 62nd Medical Brigade, check an insect trap during a field training exercise on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, June 20. The 227th PMD notionally deployed to Guiria, Venezuela, where a tropical storm caused floods and presented a real world concern for mosquitos, which are known to spawn in stagnant water and cause widespread vector borne illnesses such as malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever.

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