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News | Dec. 6, 2010

'Behind the scenes' work ensures MEDCAP success

By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Rojek Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

It takes more than just a few doctors to make a medical mission possible.

From Nov. 39 through Dec. 4, 25 members of Joint Task Force-Bravo deployed to Creompaz, Guatemala, to assist the Guatemalan government in bringing medical care to more than 1,800 people. Back in Guatemala City, however, three servicemembers stayed behind to act as the "link that never breaks" between the forward deployed team and Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras.

The operational command post, made up of Senior Airmen Henry Tolson and Mason Cairns, and led by 1st Lt. Aaron Anderson, conducted communications and weather operations from a small room near the Guatemalan Air Force airfield. Even though they had a view of Pacaya, one of the volcanoes that loom over the city, most of their days were spent online researching weather reports or chatting with mission planners using Defense Connect Online.

As the weather forecaster for the team, Airman Cairns spent more time than his teammates taking in the view of the mountains. His mission was to ensure both the forward operating team and the pilots of the 1-228th Aviation Regiment had up-to-date weather reports for mission planning. Using a mixture of satellite images, model forecasts and observational skills, he built briefings and weather forecasts for the team. The challenge, he said, was not having his normally available meteorological instruments.

"It's a little bit more difficult than knowing exactly what is going on," said Airman Cairns, who works with the 612th Air Base Squadron. "We have to look back through what we learned in technical school, as opposed to having all the equipment we do in the States. Sometimes down here you have to go back to the basics. You say, 'This happening right now, but what else can come of this?' and build on it from there."

Having that skill set available is essential to the success of a mission such as the Guatemala medical civic action program, said Lieutenant Anderson.

"Anyone who has been on a helicopter quickly realizes how much of an effect weather can have on your travels," said the lieutenant, who works with J3. "We need to make sure we keep a close eye on weather because it inevitably affects our guys coming in and out of forward operating posts."

Communications, in turn, has an effect on weather forecasting. Airman Cairns used the internet to help his weather research and relayed his findings via radio and Defense Connect Online, and it was the work of Airman Tolson, the communications specialist for the team, that made it possible. When the operational command post team arrived at the airfield at 6:30 a.m. each morning, their mission could not start until Airman Tolson completed the set up of radio and computer equipment.

A reliable communications network is necessary for rapid response, said Airman Tolson, who works with J6. The ability to quickly relay weather updates or equipment problems between multiple teams in multiple locations ensures a safe and effective mission. It takes more than communications equipment to make it all happen, though.

"It really takes somebody who has been trained on those systems, who has the expertise to come and set those things up," said Lieutenant Anderson. "These two are the ones who actually do the work. They're instrumental.

"Their products, their labor, are what are actually going forward," he added. "It's going to help our forward deployed elements; it's going to keep the elements to the rear of us informed. They're the link, the meat and potatoes of what this operation command post is all about."