By Ms. Ashley Patoka (Regional Health Command Europe)March 3, 2017
Public Health Command Europe staff visited their counterparts from the Bundeswehr Medical Services Headquarters in Koblenz, Germany March 1.
The visit was an opportunity for the PHCE staff to learn about the Bundeswehr's organization and identify similarities and comparable functions, according to Col. Michael Nippgen, Bundeswehr Oberstveterinär (veterinarian colonel), who helped coordinate the visit.
The visit included an overview of the Bundeswehr Public Health program as well as a tour through the Central Institute of the Bundeswehr Medical Service.
The Central Institute houses the veterinary and food chemistry program; entomology and zoology; tele-microbiology and more.
"There are many parallel services that the U.S. Army public health enterprise and the Bundeswehr public health services provide for our respective militaries," said Col. Steven Greiner, PHCE Commander. "As we toured their facilities, I observed a few areas where we could learn from their knowledge and experiences such as their virtual telehealth platform they have been utilizing since 2003 in support of Mali, Kosovo and Afghanistan, or their research on developing a functional combat fitness test."
The two organizations have been building their partnership for the last year and have since committed to finding ways to work and train more closely together.
"When I took command of PHCE in 2015, I was quite surprised to find out how little we interacted with our host nation partners, especially since we have been present in Germany for over 70 years," Greiner said.
Greiner and Nippgen worked together to develop quarterly combined training events which partners U.S. Army Public Health Soldiers with Bundeswehr Veterinary Services Soldiers.
The training "focuses on conducting food protection training utilizing in food safety, defense, and production in support of NATO operations, to include opening the Bundeswehr dining facilities and field kitchens up to facilitate joint inspections," according to Greiner.
He went on to say that while these events foster a climate and trust and understanding between allies, they also serve as a way to challenge and empower junior Soldiers.
"These events challenge our junior Soldiers to apply their technical skills to non-standard circumstances, significantly contributing to their confidence and competence, and making them better prepared to perform their public health missions in the current complex operating environment," Greiner said.
And because of this operating environment within Europe, building interoperability with NATO allies and partners is important.
"Our understanding of interoperability, structures, procedures and material will set the standards for European military cooperation and defense in the field of public health and VetService," Nippgen said. "We have to get a common mind of what we are doing and we must be able to share information."
Greiner agreed, "the U.S. military will never fight another engagement alone, thus it is absolutely critical to learn how our allies' military forces operate, and for them to learn how we operate, to create shared understanding and synergy. In these times of constrained medical resources, this is equally true for Army Medicine to include Public Health."
He went on to say, "we are committed to building this interoperability between the Bundeswehr and U.S. Army public health forces, while jointly broadening, developing and empowering our junior Soldiers."
The partnership between the two organizations will continue to grow as they work on additional initiatives to share best practices and expertise.
"Currently, we are working on initiatives that involve our sharing of commercial sanitary audit expertise, installation food vulnerability assessment program expertise and in the future, we would like to facilitate veterinary medical officer and technician exchange programs with our Military Working Dog Center Europe and the Bundeswehr equivalent in Ulmen."
Moving forward, the goal is to institutionalize the trainings they've established through a Memorandum of Partnership.
"It is not a 'want-to- have' relationship, it's a 'must-have' relationship," Nippgen said.