By Sgt. 1st Class John Brown, 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support)
In today’s Army, the term “readiness” has become the rallying cry for senior leaders and command teams that look to prepare Soldiers and units for mission execution. We crunch the numbers and schedule training to ensure each and every Soldier has met the minimum requirement to be deployment eligible; but is that the true measure of deployment readiness?
For most Army units around the world, deployment readiness is based on a calendar date. It’s the date when the unit will have completed its training cycle and is at its most effective for supporting contingency operations for a specific list of operational theaters. Personnel, training, equipment, medical, and logistical readiness numbers for these units will show a constant increase until they deploy, followed by a sharp decline following redeployment as the unit begins the cycle all over again.
“The 18th MEDCOM is the only operational-level medical mission command headquarters in the Pacific, postured to provide Army Health System Support in the AOR to build relationships and enhance readiness with our 36 partner nations,” said Col. Ann M. Sammartino, commander of the 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support).
The 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support) doesn’t have the luxury of a reoccurring deployment cycle to rely on increasing deployment readiness statistics, and they definitely don’t have a date on a calendar that they need to be prepared for. For the Soldiers of the 18th MEDCOM, today could be that date on the calendar.
Like every other unit in the Army, the possibility of deploying in support of contingency operations remains at the forefront of training requirements, but it’s the other missions that require a constant state of readiness for the Pacific Knights.
One of the primary missions of the 18th MEDCOM, as the Operational Army of Army Health Systems in the Indo-Asian Pacific Region, is to provide Medical Mission Command in support of humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.
According to the National Weather Service, in 2016, there were 26 named storms, 13 hurricanes or typhoons, and six super typhoons within the Indo-Asian-Pacific Area of Responsibility. Each of these storms, which strike with little warning, is a potential deployment for the 18th MEDCOM.
“The 18th MEDCOM is literally a one-of-its-kind unit; there are no longer any other multi-component MEDCOMs in the Army ... not to mention, it is a world-wide deployable unit based in the most natural disaster-prone region of the world,” said Cpt. McKinsey Harb, the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 18th MEDCOM.
Consisting of both Active Duty and Army Reserve Soldiers, the 18th MEDCOM faces unique challenges with regard to maintaining readiness. “Ensuring that Army Reserve Soldiers stay ready in the 18th MEDCOM requires our Active Duty Soldiers to expand their knowledge of Army systems, gain access to unfamiliar territory, liaise with external units, and utilize multiple methods of communication and leadership,” explained Harb.
The training requirements are slightly different for Active and Reserve components, but the need to maintain readiness remains the same. By ensuring all Soldiers, both Active and Reserve, are held to the same standards for training, the 18th MEDCOM ensures that all members of the team are prepared for mobilization.
“My focuses, as the HHC commander are medical readiness of the Soldiers in the unit, required training prescribed by Army Regulation 350-1 which includes physical readiness testing and weapons qualification, training on the company METL (mission essential task list) to ensure we are ready to support the 18th MEDCOM mission, and accountability and maintenance of the unit’s equipment,” said Harb.
Harb points out that in the past, the Army has focused deployment readiness on the various phases of the Army Force Generation cycle which set benchmarks for deployment preparation and provided a ready pool of units for contingency operations. Often referred to as the “Patch Chart,” Army units knew when they were scheduled to be available for possible deployments.
“Today’s Army demands that commands maintain a constant state of readiness,” says Harb, “which requires more diligence, more flexibility, more communication, and more honesty.
“As a company commander, I have found that maintaining deployment readiness has been a challenge that requires me to think outside the box, solicit creative solutions both internally and externally, generate buy-in and persevere with new solutions when old ones fail,” said Harb.
The 18th MEDCOM maintains deployment readiness by providing regular classes, ranges and testing opportunities to ensure all Soldiers meet their requirements, by monitoring individual medical readiness on a daily basis, and by providing daily physical readiness and reconditioning physical readiness programs for Soldiers.
“To ensure individual and unit deployment readiness we monitor, from the platoon and company level, the training proficiency and medical status of every Soldier every day,” said Harb.
An aspect of deployment readiness that is often overlooked is equipment readiness. Soldiers who currently have multiple deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan to their credit have grown accustomed to getting a majority of their equipment when they reach their deployment location courtesy of prepositioned stocks and lateral transfers from the unit’s they replace. For units that have to be prepared to support efforts throughout the Pacific, however, organic equipment must be ready for mobilization at all times.
“Maintaining equipment readiness is no easy task due to the level of details and steps that have to be taken in order to maintain unit readiness,” said Cpt. Basilio Deleon, a logistics officer with 18th MEDCOM.
“Maintaining readiness starts with the daily, weekly and monthly Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services that users perform on their equipment,” continued Deleon, “18th MEDCOM has kept the force ready to deploy at a moment’s notice to any part of the Pacific Area of Responsibility by conducting the necessary maintenance on the unit’s equipment and by utilizing tools like the Global Combat Support System-Army.”
Deleon is quick to point out that failure to perform required/regular maintenance on organic equipment can have catastrophic effects on a unit’s deployment readiness, “We have to remember that the equipment we have now is what we are more than likely going to deploy with.”
In 2016, the 18th MEDCOM was able to effectively mobilize their Forward Command Post and Main Command Post in support of U.S. Army Pacific Command (USARPAC) training exercises while simultaneously facilitating Global Health Engagements with the People’s Army of Vietnam and participating in Ulchi Freedom Guardian in Korea and Japan, and Medical Exercise 2016 in Japan.
Throughout the course of the year, the Soldiers and leaders of the 18th MEDCOM facilitated training, provided medical logistics support, engaged with healthcare leaders from partnered nations, and supported more than a dozen events throughout the Indo-Asian Pacific Region.
Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Wrighton Jr., the senior enlisted advisor for 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support), and Air Force Sr. Chief Master Sgt. Chi Swanson, the acting superintendent for the 35th Medical Group Base Hospital at Misawa Air Force Base, Japan, visit with Soldiers and Airmen working in the urgent care department during Joint Medical Exercise 2016 on August 23. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class John D. Brown, 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support) Public Affairs Office