By Lt. Cmdr. Lori Christensen, environmental health officer, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
I will soon be embarking on what has the potential to be the most exciting three months of my Navy career to date. Leaving the familiar behind, I will go to places I have only read about in history books.
When I had the pleasure of getting to know an officer from the Papua New Guinea Defense Force during my Army Medical Service Corps days, I never dreamed that my future would include working in his home country as a Navy Medical Service Corps Officer. That is exactly what happens next Wednesday as I arrive in Papua New Guinea as part Pacific Partnership 2013.
Pacific Partnership 2013 began for me in late January when I received a request for forces from Lt. Cmdr. Chad Rees, Plans and Medical Operations Officer, Navy Medicine West. The message was sent to me on a Sunday evening because of my role as the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) community Assistant Specialty Leader (ASL). The request came in for 2 EHOs to deploy with Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 31 as part of the preventive medicine team for the mission.
My immediate reaction was to volunteer! This is the type of mission that we dream about in the preventive medicine community! I wrote a reply with the caveat that I would have to check with the EHO Specialty Leader and my boss, both of whom gave me the “go-ahead”. We put out a message to the EHO community the next day and had an overwhelming response from the junior officers in the community. One thing about the EHO community is that we are not shy about deployments. The selection was made to send me and Lt. J.G. Sterling from Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit Six in Pearl Harbor, HI. The support from the EHO community and my colleagues at the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) has been overwhelming. Navy medicine is truly a team and I am so fortunate to be a part of.
Those of us who were assigned in February came into planning that was already well under way. The Pre Deployment Site Survey teams were returning to provide situational awareness and guidance at weekly teleconferences led by the Medical Component Lead for the mission, Capt. Chris Westbrook, Fleet Surgical Team 9, San Diego. I was assigned as the senior Preventive Medicine staffer for the team and began the process of mission preparation in addition to maintaining an already busy schedule in my current position at BUMED.
One of the first decisions that had to be made was to determine which officers would go on each of the three separate ADVON (Advanced Liaison) teams. There were four of us to choose from and the remaining officer would be the Preventive Medicine Officer in Charge on the USS Pearl Harbor. It was determined that I would go on ADVON with the team deploying to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. This means I will be in country to liaison with the host nation ministries of health and medical teams to determine which activities the shipboard crew will participate in when they disembark.
The main focus of PP13 is to build on pre-existing infrastructure and conduct Subject Matter Expertise Exchanges (SMEEs) to build sustainable projects that can grow and be further developed by future mission teams. It is an exciting opportunity and I am very excited to be able to share it with my Navy colleagues. Also, as it is a partnership mission, we will be working alongside our Australian and New Zealand counterparts.
Stand by for weekly updates and pictures. Next stop, meeting the ADVON team in Hawaii.