By Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army AfricaJune 8, 2010
VICENZA, Italy - As Col. Alfonso Alarcon stood before his medical colleagues at the Association of the United States Army medical symposium held this May in San Antonio, Texas, he discussed U.S. Army Africa's role in supporting medical missions on the African continent.
Many were hearing about the command for the first time.
"There was tremendous interest expressed both at our exhibit booth and during breakout sessions," said Alarcon, U.S. Army Africa's senior medical officer. "This symposium was an opportunity to reinforce our message to senior Army medical leaders that Army medical personnel will play a key role in U.S. Army Africa's future success."
San Antonio, a Mecca for medical Soldiers, served as the symposium's backdrop. Nearby are Fort Sam Houston, where Army medics are trained and Brooke Army Medical Center, where many of today's wounded warriors receive care.
During the weeklong event, senior leader discussions for officers and noncommissioned officers focused on the future of Army medicine, to include how military medics are trained, said Sgt. 1st Class Roddy Rieger, a U.S. Army Africa medical NCO who manned the command exhibit.
U.S. Army Africa's booth was a hit with passing troops, Rieger said.
"We're the Army's newest service component command, supporting U.S. Africa Command. So we put the word out there to the medical community what our roles and responsibilities are on the African continent," Rieger said.
Two young nurses, recently commissioned Army lieutenants, were curious. At first, they picked up a couple pamphlets and turned to leave. Rieger called them back, asking if they had questions about the command. He spent nearly an hour explaining what U.S. Army Africa medical staff has done on the continent and what's expected in the future.
Over the past year Rieger deployed to places like Djibouti and Botswana, using his extensive knowledge of battlefield medicine to familiarize African military medics with U.S. Army medical procedures. In some cases, Rieger served as a mentor to his African counterparts, who are working to strengthen their medical skills and capacity.
Medical Soldiers' work in Africa includes taking part in familiarization events with African partner nations, military exercises and ongoing research.
Staff from U.S. Army Africa's command surgeon's office have planned and conducted partnership events with several African land forces. Army medicine was at the forefront of Natural Fire 10, a humanitarian and disaster response exercise held in October 2009 in Uganda. For more than 40 years, the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit - Kenya has researched and battled diseases in East Africa.
Rieger then talked about a fellow senior NCO, Sgt. 1st Clash Dedraf Blash, who spent three months in 2009 mentoring medics from the Armed Forces of Liberia.
During the symposium, Blash received the Capt. John R. Teal Leadership Award for her superior leadership and professionalism serving with U.S. Army Africa's command surgeon's office and during her Liberia tour. The annual award recognizes an officer and noncommissioned officer who made significant contributions to the medical community and displayed exceptional soldiering.
"It was an honor to witness the U.S. Army Surgeon General personally present the award to her as she stood before hundreds of Army senior medical leaders," Alarcon said.
Overall, U.S. Army Africa's medical staff successfully used the symposium to reach out to the larger Army medical community, Alarcon said.
"We were able to lay the foundation and establish relationships with key organizations within MEDCOM that will likely develop into value-added, future partnerships," Alarcon said.