Air Guard medics cast off for Continuing Promise

Eight Air National Guard medical technicians boarded the USS Kearsarge in Norfolk, Va., Friday to participate in the second phase of Continuing Promise 2008, a four-month humanitarian and civic assistance mission to six Caribbean islands.

During the deployment, the Kearsarge, a Navy amphibious ship, will visit Nicaragua, Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The Air Guard members include:

  • Staff Sgt. Daisha McCuskey and Senior Airman Alexandra Olson, 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn.
  • Master Sgt. Melanie Armstead-Williams, 131st Fighter Wing, St. Joseph, Mo.
  • Tech. Sgt. Angela Rankin, 126th Air Refueling Wing, Scott AFB, Ill.
  • Staff Sgt. Alan Reynolds, 151st Air Refueling Wing, Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Staff Sgt. Ladrew Price, 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Islands Air National Guard Base, Calif.;
  • Senior Airman Danae Eskridge, 142nd Fighter Wing, Klamath Falls, Ore.;
  • Master Sgt. Cassandra McNeal, 177th Fighter Wing, Atlantic City, N.J.

McNeal, a lab technician at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J., said she has been deployed twice before to Iraq.

But she has never been on a Navy ship. “It will be a good opportunity just to work alongside different military organizations … to try to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.

About 80 Air Force personnel have volunteered for this mission. McNeal said that in Balad, once everyone was placed in their different departments, “everyone pretty much blended, worked as a team. The same thing will happen once we are on board.”

McNeal said she expects the work to be steady. “It will be a little challenging on shore in the communities, because that will entail painting buildings and doing clean-up work.”

But the hardest part of the mission will be adjusting to the ship. Although she has been on several cruises, “not being on land for a length of time going from port to port” will be a challenge, McNeal said. But once they are in port, “being docked for two weeks is not so bad.

“Because it is a humanitarian mission, I am really hoping to help the native people … to make an impact and difference in their lives.”

McCuskey, an aerospace medical services specialist with the 148th Fighter Wing, is a nursing student at the Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. She is taking the fall semester off to participate in the operation, and she said she also is very excited to help people, work with the Navy and travel to these countries.

This is the first deployment for both members if the 148th. “They should get quality hands-on training,” said Lt. Col. Steve Wabrowetz, deputy commander of the 148th Medical Group. “They will see a wide variety of maladies that we don’t experience much of in the U.S. and get real world training that we cannot provide here.”

Col. Frank Stokes, the 148th’s vice commander, agrees. “Operation Continuing Promise is a tremendous opportunity for our Airmen to practice the skills they have learned in the Air National Guard,” he said.

The first phase of Continuing Promise ended in June. The medical professionals aboard USS Boxer saw more than 14,000 patients, performed 127 surgeries, dispensed 40,000 medications and saw nearly 4,000 optometry patients, distributing about 3,500 pairs of eyeglasses, according to U.S. Southern Command’s (USSOUTHCOM) Web site. They also performed 14,000 dental procedures and made 66 repairs to biomedical equipment in the various clinics and hospitals where they worked.

Wasp-class amphibious assault ships, like Boxer and Kearsarge, are designed to conduct a variety of expeditionary missions, including rapid, projected humanitarian assistance worldwide, according to USSOUTHCOM’s Web site. They can also transport large amounts of medical and engineering supplies and equipment to most locations around the globe. An earlier Navy ship Kearsarge gained fame for sinking the Confederate raider Alabama off the French coast during the Civil War.

Each ship is a floating hospital with medical facilities that include six operating rooms, 13 intensive care unit beds, 40 ward beds, three dental operating rooms and a laboratory, X-ray and blood bank.
Ellen Krenke (NGB)

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