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'We've been to Tombouctou:' Medical group's unique capabilities allow for global stability operations response

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Susan Penning
  • 193rd SOW Public Affairs
"Have you heard of Tombouctou? Well, our medical personnel have been there, providing military support in some unconventional ways," said Lt. Col. Kevin Hinkle, 193rd Special Operations Medical Group chief of medical operations.

Tombouctou is a region in Mali, located in the northwestern part of Africa, which includes a large section of the Sahara desert. Specially trained personnel from the 193rd SOMDG deployed there recently to conduct irregular warfare medical stability operations.

"In the past year, we have had members support operations in Mali, over the wire support in Afghanistan, and we've also supported a very large, multi-national exercise in Jordan. All of these missions were not only unique to the 193rd but also to the Air National Guard," said Colonel Hinkle.

Stability operations include activities conducted outside the United States in coordination with other instruments of national power to establish civil security and control, restore essential services, repair and protect critical infrastructure and deliver humanitarian assistance.

Medical stability operations typically involve Department of Defense HIV/AIDS (and other disease) prevention programs and medical training initiatives. Providing regionally focused health care education through the Defense Institute for Medical Operations is often a key component as well.

Although the 193rd SOMDG's recent mission to Mali was primarily humanitarian in scope, one of the overall goals regarding the Air National Guard's presence in this region is to win the hearts and minds of the people they are providing services to. This in turn helps to build good will and relationships with the local population.

Military medical personnel performing these types of missions must have additional specialized training because the work they do often requires non-standard aviation support, unconventional attire and an in-depth understanding of a region's cultural and societal influences.

"We are currently the only medical group in the Air National Guard trained to handle these missions," said Colonel Hinkle. The unit has 10 officers and eight enlisted personnel (under two unit tasking codes) assigned who are designated to receive the specialized training. This ensures the 193rd SOMDG is capable of responding to Air Force Special Operations Command requests to support IW medical stability operations around the globe.

The additional training for these personnel includes three phases. The first phase is an introduction to special operations and, specifically, to special operations medicine. The second phase focuses on field skills training, and the third phase includes an intense, five-day intercultural course.

"This specialized training not only ensures we are able to provide the necessary care or instruction to civilians but also ensures the safety of ourselves and our team members," said Capt. Cindy Innella, 193rd SOMDG officer in charge of immunizations.

Personnel who are part of these missions include: family medical doctors; physician assistants; optometrists and optometry technicians; psychologists, public health technicians; pediatricians; dentists and dental technicians; clinical nurses; medical administration and logistics specialists; and bioenvironmental technicians.