Operating – often literally – and working under austere conditions is generally “ops normal” for military medics and the currently underway Exercise Shared Accord provides an opportunity for particularly its dental component to be hands-on in difficult conditions.
At the same time other SAMHS (SA Military Health Service) personnel are brushing up on disaster management response knowledge with ongoing training at the uMhlathuze multi-sports complex in Richards Bay ahead of humanitarian relief co-operation with the US military deployed for Shared Accord.
SAMHS dental team leader for the joint South African/US humanitarian and tactical exercise currently underway in KwaZulu-Natal, Lieutenant Colonel ZS Moodley, sees his current deployment as part of a learning curve where lessons learnt will be put to use in upcoming operations and “even the next Shared Accord”.
This week saw Moodley and his team set up shop at the uMhlathuze multi-sports complex in a SAMHS mobile dental clinic as part of the overall humanitarian component of Shared Accord. Also part of the dental service was “partners from the US Army and the South African Department of Health” according to Captain Jacques de Vries, seconded to the Joint Operations Division of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) communications team for the exercise.
He reports the military dental clinic and its services were made known to local residents via an awareness campaign and by word of mouth. Testimony to its effectiveness was the number of patients reporting for fillings and extractions as well as consultations and referrals.
Moodley emphasised the importance of serviceable equipment. “It’s essential no matter how experienced your team is or what condition your modularised container is in, activities will grind to a halt if equipment is not available or in a good state”.
SAMHS events officer, Major M H Lesenyeho, is reported by de Vries as saying the national defence force is preparing for various scenarios ascertaining what personnel know about disaster and incident management as well as humanitarian relief operations.
One area of concern in post-disaster response is familiarity with epidemiology – the incidence, distribution and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health and where South Africa stands in terms of diseases affecting the country.
Scenarios are being conducted in preparation for Shared Accord exercises. They include setting up an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp where those taking part are put through their paces as regards how accommodation and toilet facilities as well as water supply and food preparation areas are separated to prevent spread of disease.
Lesenyeho wants training participants to “be reminded of the role of the SANDF in government, especially the organisation’s role in disaster response, mass casualty events and relief efforts under the nine provincial joint tactical headquarters.”
He said “events such as Shared Accord show the public more about the capabilities and capacities available in times of crisis.”
While conventional and unconventional combat readiness training will take place between South African and United States troops during Shared Accord 2022, the over-arching focus is on honing humanitarian and peacekeeping skills to benefit communities where the exercise troops operate.