CAMDEN, New Jersey -- Six Army Medicine Soldiers recently graduated the 2019 Strategic Medical Asset Readiness Training Program (SMART), on December 13.

SMART is part of the Army Medical Skills Sustainment Program (AMSSP) which develops partnerships with civilian trauma centers and hospitals to build medical sustainment capabilities in Army medical personnel. It's a total force training opportunity, and National Guard Soldiers were among the graduates.

Operation SMART events are improving operational readiness and enhancing responsive medical capabilities to ensure the Army maintains a ready medical force.

The two-week program, also referred to as Operation SMART, provides medical military occupational specialties, such as combat medics, the opportunity to get "hands on" training alongside their civilian counterparts in premier trauma centers and hospitals throughout the United States.

The U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General has medical training agreements with Cooper University Health Care in Camden, New Jersey, and other medical teaching hospitals to train a range of medical technicians, nurses and physicians. This was the first rotation for the SMART program at Cooper University Health Care.

"This program gave me what I would like to call self-efficacy. I'm able to do what I've been trained to do rather than just going through and refreshing skills, because I received hands-on [training] in the ED, the trauma units, and at the EMS stations here at Cooper and in Camden," said Sgt. Gene Coker, a Combat Medic and native of Tampa, Florida.

Impressed with the overall training, Coker went on share how the program helped him understand patients better.

"We're dealing with chronic rather than acute illnesses. Not something that just happened, but illnesses they've had all their life and they're having to deal with the after effects of it," Coker explained.

This cohort of Army Medicine SMART graduates included:

1. Corporal Brian Hatcher of Norman, Oklahoma; Medical Lab Tech, Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, Fort Polk, Louisiana
2. 1st Lieutenant Hillary Esposito of Bridgewater, New Jersey; Healthcare Administrator, New Jersey National Guard
3. Sergeant Gene Coker of Tampa, Florida; Combat Medic, Kansas National Guard
4. Specialist Ilissa Blackshear of West Orange, New Jersey; Medical Lab Tech, Bravo Company Troop Command, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland
5. Specialist Kirsten Boyd of Roanoke, Virginia; Radiologist Specialist, DiLorenzo TriCare Clinic, Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia
6. Specialist Paul Fruehauf of Tustin, California; Combat Medic, Weed Army Community Hospital, California

The SMART program was established in August 2018 as part of the Army Medical Department Medical Skills Sustainment Program (AMSSP), and it is managed by the U.S. Army Office of the Surgeon General (OTSG). Since 2018, the SMART program has partnered with the University of Cincinnati Health Center, Ohio, and Hackensack University Medical Center, New Jersey. Operation SMART events are held quarterly.

Cooper University Health Care is now the third location among the Army Medicine partnerships to provide specialized medical training to Active Duty, Guard and Reserve personnel from the U.S. military as part of Operation SMART. Cooper is one of the leading academic health systems providing medical training to military personnel.

With the program successfully established in Cincinnati, Hackensack, and Camden, OTSG plans to expand the program to other locations that are close to large numbers of Guard and Reserve Soldiers as well as active duty installations.

"This is excellent training for us," said 1st Lt. Hillary Esposito, an Army National Guard Soldier from Bridgewater, New Jersey. "The SMART program offers a wide array of experience, especially for the Guard. We only get this training once a month. Most don't train like this on a day-to-day basis."