Fort Bragg troops spent more than two weeks in Rwanda earlier this year, participating in an exercise meant to benefit African partners while also preparing the soldiers for future missions abroad.
Twenty soldiers from the 44th Medical Brigade and Womack Army Medical Center took part in the U.S. Army Africa’s Medical Readiness Exercise, which was held in conjunction with Shared Accord 2018, a multinational training event meant to enhance peacekeeping operations and national security across the continent.
The Fort Bragg soldiers, most of whom belonged to the 44th Medical Brigade’s 28th Combat Support Hospital, worked alongside counterparts at the Rwanda Military Hospital in Kigali between Aug. 14 and Aug. 29.
They treated hundreds of patients, trained Rwandan medical officials and repaired medical equipment.
Sgt. Anthony Triolo, an operating room specialist with the 28th CSH, called the training a tremendous opportunity that made a real difference.
“We went straight to work,” he said. “They were eager to have us jump right in.”
The team of soldiers included surgeons, nurses and anesthetists. The training presented an opportunity for troops to see different patients than they would at Fort Bragg.
“It has to do with the patient population,” said Col. Douglas Phillips, the officer in charge of the 28th CSH team that deployed to Africa.
Phillips, the chief nurse and deputy commander for clinical operations with the 28th CSH, said most patients at Fort Bragg are service members or dependents — a population that is generally very healthy.
The patients at the Rwanda Military Hospital are civilians of all ages and backgrounds, he said. And they presented complexities not typically found at Womack Army Medical Center.
The added difficulty of treatment, in addition to being in a foreign nation and working with different types of equipment, mimics some of the difficulties of a combat deployment, Phillips said. And it allows soldiers to hone skills not often used at home.
“It was a learning and moving exercise,” Phillips said.
He said the unit’s experience in deploying to Rwanda would help it to better deploy when the unit is next called to a mission, no matter where in the world that mission is.
“It’s making an impact,” Phillips said. “And it makes for better soldiers.”
Triolo said soldiers had to improvise as they worked without resources that would be available to them at Fort Bragg. He said soldiers also were able to cross-train on different jobs, preparing them to step in if needed on a future mission.
“It gives you a different perspective on things,” Triolo said. “It’s all about more exposure and more experience.”
The Fort Bragg soldiers worked in the hospital’s operating rooms and intensive care unit.
They also trained Rwandan workers on how to use ultrasound to quickly evaluate patients, helped reduce a surgery backlog at the hospital, led a Tactical Combat Casualty Care course, refitted two ambulances to improve life support capabilities and repaired medical equipment valued at more than $550,000.
The hospital’s clinical service division manager, Col. Eugene Ngoga, praised those efforts in a statement posted to the hospital’s website.
“Patients have and will benefit from this exercise because we have extra hands and extra brains with U.S. Army doctors,” he said.
Phillips said the partnership has continued, even as the soldiers have returned to Fort Bragg.
There are ongoing discussions on how to further improve the Rwanda Military Hospital, he said, and plans to return for a similar exercise next year.
Similar medical readiness exercises are held frequently in Africa, but this one was hosted by Rwanda for the first time, officials said.
Triolo and Phillips said the experience was inspiring, in no small part because of the nation’s divisive past.
In 1994, extremists from the Hutu majority killed hundreds of thousands from the Tutsi minority.
During their visit, Fort Bragg soldiers visited a genocide museum and learned more about the atrocity and how the nation has come together since.
“It was a huge eye-opener,” Triolo said.
Phillips said the nation seems far removed from its dark past. He complimented how the nation has come together in the years since and said America can learn from how the population now works together for the betterment of the nation.
Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3567.