Air Force trains Congolese medics

KISINGANI, Democratic Republic of the Congo -- When Capt. Adam Waggoner arrived in Kisingani, Democratic Republic of the Congo in March for a six month deployment, his mission was to provide medical support to a 30-person Special Operations Command and Control Element that was working to train a Light Infantry Battalion of DRC soldiers, as well as to establish a training center for the Congolese military. A few weeks later, however, Waggoner and his five medical technicians found themselves taking on another mission - teaching 14 Congolese medics the skills needed to support the battalion during conflict.

With few materials on-hand and a just a shell of a plan, Waggoner and his technicians teamed with a lone contractor to "build the program on the fly."
"There were no materials, per se," said Waggoner, an emergency medicine physician assistant from the 96th Medical Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. "We started by talking with the trainees about their background and capabilities...they were pretty inexperienced."

Dr. Castro Kasole was the only certified physician and surgeon among the 14, and only six others claimed previous medical technical training. Pulled together for this event from cities across the country, the medics learned to work as a team.

"I had to take a cut in pay to come here, but it was worth it," Dr. Kasole said. "We are all better combat medics now and there were seven who didn't have any training before, so for them this was very much needed."

In addition to holding sick call twice per day for the DRC soldiers, the medical technicians participated in classroom sessions that included basic anatomy and English language skills. They practiced hands-on drills such as starting an IV, conducting physical exams and applying bandages, treating for shock and transporting wounded, as well as basic defense, weapons qualification and land navigation techniques.

"Basically they learned the skills of an intermediate emergency medical technician...as combat medics they now know what basic materials they need and how to make common materials work for their purposes, and they know how to execute those skills in the field," Waggoner said.

Culminating the 14 weeks of training, the medics faced the challenge of a field exercise to test their skills, responding to various scenarios and evaluated on their response to stressors and an evolving situation.

"We took a green group of guys who are educated, smart and willing to learn, and taught them how to get in the field and save the lives of their guys," Waggoner said. "It's been great to see them become more comfortable and confident in their skills. They're ready to run out there and get it done."

According to Dr. Kasole, the Congolese soldiers' confidence in and appreciation for their skills is reinforced by the sobering reminder of friends lost in combat.
"All of the prior medics lost many soldiers in previous battles from various wounds. After completing this, we see that many of them will be saved in the future from the many skills we have learned," Dr. Kasole said.

As the medics continue to treat sick call patients and hone their new skills, Waggoner and crew have rotated back to their home stations. The medics will take part in an official graduation with the rest of the Light Infantry Battalion on Sep. 15, and while that may ceremoniously signal the successful completion of training, the medical team is already gaining recognition for its accomplishments.

"When we first started seeing patients here at Camp Base, the soldiers did not trust we knew what we were doing," Dr. Kasole explained. "As they saw us in the field training with the Americans and came to our clinic for care, they began to feel comfortable. Now we have been requested by name to pass on this training to others around the DRC."