PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea – The fledgling partnership between Papua New Guinea and the Wisconsin National Guard has already proven to be rich in opportunities for initiatives in COVID-19 response, medical services and women’s health.
Representatives from the Wisconsin National Guard traveled to Papua New Guinea in March to strengthen their partnership with the Papua New Guinea Defense Force under the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.
The Wisconsin National Guard and Papua New Guinea Defense Force partnership began in 2020 and supports U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command efforts to strengthen a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Lt. Col. Derrek Schultheiss, the Wisconsin State Partnership Program director, said part of the mission is to look for areas where the two militaries can be mutually beneficial.
“I firmly believe that medical services is one of those areas,” Schultheiss said.
Medical service officers in the U.S. military fill many roles, including administrative health services, medical allied sciences, preventive medicine sciences, behavioral health sciences, pharmacy, optometry and podiatry. These officers focus on operational medicine, supporting warfighters, and strengthening the military health system.
Maj. Betsy Arndt, a joint domestic medical operations officer for the Wisconsin National Guard, toured military medical facilities around Port Moresby, guided by Maj. Roselyn Wia, staff officer two to the director of health services for the Papua New Guinea Defense Force (PNGDF).
“I think that we have a lot to learn from their team, especially when it comes to preventative messaging,” Arndt said. “It is important we both identify the most effective ways we can be useful to one another.”
Sgt. Saidi Dixie, a PNGDF medic stationed at the Goldie River Training Depot near Port Moresby, told Arndt he attended medical training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
“I am eager to come back for more training because I serve in a community where people primarily rely on health services from the military,” Dixie said. “I am interested in building on the skills I learned in America.”
Dixie said he would like to learn midwifery to better serve the needs of his military and community.
In April, members of the Wisconsin National Guard met virtually with partners in the PNGDF to discuss military pregnancy policies and other challenges unique to women serving in the military, expanding the organization’s years of advocacy for new mothers beyond state lines and into an international conversation.
The Department of Defense’s Women, Peace and Security Strategic Framework and Implementation Plan aims to ensure that women in partner nations meaningfully serve at all ranks and in all occupations in defense and security sectors.
Throughout the partnership between the Wisconsin National Guard and Papua New Guinea, many glimpses of this initiative have played out on a tactical level and in individual interactions.
Spc. Samantha Struck, a combat medic with Racine, Wisconsin-based C Company, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, stepped out of her regular role to help Soldiers search female detainees.
“This kind of training is critical for women’s safety and ensuring trust between the military and surrounding communities,” Struck said.
In addition to women’s safety and wellness, the two militaries found they shared similar public health missions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arndt said the two militaries share a lot of the same struggles.
“We often find that we are not integrated into planning early enough,” Arndt said as Wia laughed.
“COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise because it drew attention to the importance of medical services,” Wia said. “You could say it was our time to shine.”
Wia outlined the strategy she employed to garner support from her leadership early on in the pandemic.
“I told them that the battlefield landscape was now a biological one,” she said. “Medical will be on the front line, wielding masks instead of weapons.”
Wia said she was looking forward to the partnership’s impact.
Arndt was impressed by the motivation and dedication of the medical services professionals.
Arndt also witnessed the progression of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s other partnership with Nicaragua.
“We accomplished so much with our other partner, and already in this early stage with this new partner, there is an amazing start,” she said.
“We hope that this trip shows us where we can make an impact on each other,” Wia added.