FORT MAGSAYSAY, Philippines -- Medical Advisors with 6th Battalion, 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade created a hybrid Medical Advisor Team to train alongside the Philippine Army during the medical portion of Salaknib ‘22, March 7-11, 2022, in the Philippines.
Salaknib is the annual bilateral exercise sponsored by the U.S. Army Pacific Command and led by the Philippine Army. It serves to strengthen the U.S. / Philippine Army partnership by enhancing interoperability across multiple domains of military strategy, operations, and tactics.
“For two years our Philippine Army counterparts have been requesting Medical and Medical Logistics Training for the medical portion of Salaknib,” said Maj. Kelly Spencer, the 5th SFAB Nurse who led the Medical Advising Team.
Up until recently, the U.S. Army component of Salaknib has been unable to accommodate any request for medical logistics advising in particular, but when the 5th SFAB received the request in 2021, the brigade medical staff began to talk about preparing a hybrid Medical Advising Team out of their already well-trained and highly-experienced staff.
“We hosted a five-day formal medical and medical logistics advising training at Fort Magsaysay, near Cabanatuan City,” Spencer said. “Presently, we are the only SFAB to have used medical advisors outside of the single combat medics assigned to our standard Advisor Teams.”
The typical SFAB Advisor Team model is designed to provide support to partners and allies in the form of tactical advising. However, due to the depth of knowledge and support that the Philippine Army was requesting, a team completely comprised of U.S. Army medical professionals was necessary.
“We differ from the combat medics assigned for typical medical advising on our SFAB Advising Teams,” Spencer said. “They is only one Combat Medic on a team of Advisors amongst various other military occupational specialties, and as such, their primary purpose is to advise on the tactical level but not the operational or strategic levels. My team has advanced medical credentials, experience working at Role I – IV medical facilities, and can reach medical professionals at the senior levels of our partner force that Combat Medics may not have access to.”
Most of the brigade medical staff are assigned to 6th Battalion and true to their name, all of them are trained Advisors. Spencer commented that it was a natural solution to simply deploy as a Medical Advising Team since technically they were the best suited collection of Advisors to meet the needs of their Philippine Army counterparts.
“According to doctrine, we may not be a medical advising team but we are actual Advisors and are certified through the Combat Advisor Training Course,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Lesher, the Brigade Medical Logistics Sergeant, 6th Battalion, 5th SFAB.
“Filling this request in an unconventional manner was a good opportunity to take advantage of our unique skill sets since each one of us comes from slightly different areas of expertise within the Army’s medical community.”
The Philippine Army is hard at work to improve all aspects of their medical care. They are creating a more standardized approach to military medical tactics, and stabilizing the operational tempo and expectations for their medical staff.
One challenge that is unique to their military is the variation of equipment and terrain that their medics experience while providing care in different parts of the country.
“We had a variety of different people that we met with, including doctors, nurses, medical planners, medics, etc. and their approach was different depending on what their background was, where they were located, the terrain they lived around and what resources were realistically available to them,” Spencer said.
Up until now, the resources available to Philippine Army Medics would often differ to the point of improvisation, while the operational framework and standard of care regularly relied on the innovation of the Philippine Soldiers themselves.
“We were extremely impressed at their innovativeness,” Lesher said. “They had discovered creative solutions to problems that I’ve never thought of, like how they would transport wounded people over long distances of undeveloped land with non-standard military vehicles like motorcycles.
The team saw opportunities to improve future training iterations.
“We tried to tap into this innovation with our medical engagements, understanding that the Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands that present logistical challenges. For example, some remote areas may not have access to stored blood supply, thus we taught classes on fresh whole blood transfusions,” Lesher said.
The Medical Advisor Team conveyed during their interview that they realized how important it was for face to face conversations with their partner force.
They found meaning in taking time to learn what standardization of medical training, and concepts of care could accomplish, while gaining respect for resourcefulness and creativity of their counterparts.
“Since the Philippine Army wants to write a new medical logistics doctrine that starts on the strategic level and reaches all the way down through the operational and tactical levels, engagements like these are irreplaceable,” said Capt. James Jordan, Medical Logistics Advisor and the Brigade Holistic Health and Fitness Director.
The 5th SFAB maintains a persistent presence in the Philippines with Advisors regularly rotating through the country to support combined interoperability training while supporting the longstanding partnership between the two nations.