The mission of the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kyrgyzstan
is to protect combat airpower in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.
But that mission is not possible without a fit, healthy team of international
coalition members operating as a cohesive team.
Medics from the 376th Expeditionary Medical Group and South
Korea’s 924th Medical Group help ensure service members are fit to fight.
The U.S. side has basic primary medical capabilities,
including internal medicine, family practice, flight medicine, general
dentistry, nursing, public health and bioenvironmental care.
So it is, in essence, a microcosm of a fixed U.S. Air Force
base, with one exception. Here, Korean forces add general surgery and orthopedic
surgery to the U.S. medical services.
General surgery doctors treat such injuries as broken arms or
legs, hernias, hemorrhoids, or appendix or gall bladder troubles.
Without that capability, service members would have to be sent
out of theater, said Col. (Dr.) Roger Hesselbrock, 376th EMDG commander.
With the operating room and support staff comes an in-patient
capability as well as the ability to lodge coalition members, if necessary.
The Korean specialists also bring some unique and specialized
forms of medical care to the fight, Hesselbrock said.
They offer a unique discipline, Oriental medicine, which is a
specialty that gets a lot of business here with nontraditional treatments such
as acupuncture and massage, among others. It is a nice complement to traditional
medicine, he said.
And while the nontraditional disciplines are nice to have, the
U.S. and Korean staffs both said they understand their core mission.
“Basically, we’re a support function, and we’re here to keep
people healthy and keep them fit so that they can do their mission,” Hesselbrock
“If people aren’t medically good-to-go, then missions don’t
get accomplished, refueling fighters doesn’t happen, aircraft don’t get
launched, and people and re-supply cargo don’t get downrange,” he said.
The majority of the team’s mission is treating fairly mundane
ills like simple, uncomplicated infections, respiratory infections and
gastrointestinal diseases like diarrhea and vomiting.
But they also see their share of injuries. Even though most of
the injuries are minor, occasionally they require more intervention.
“I’ve witnessed medical personnel from a number of nations,
all of them around the same patient, working in harmony for the patient’s care,”
he said. “What’s really neat for me as a commander is I really didn’t have to be
telling anybody what to do -- they do it.
“It gives you great confidence that if we did have a bigger
situation, like a mass casualty situation, we’re ready for it,” Hesselbrock