U.S. Army Major Cynthia McPherson, CJTF-HOA wrote:
U.S. Army Major Cynthia McPherson is a member of the 402nd Civil Affairs Functional Specialty Team, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.
As I prepare to embark on a mission, which is very different from those I have previously participated in, I find myself a bit anxious and reminiscent on past experiences. Is it the anticipation from past experiences, the new experience or simply the excitement of a different encounter? As my team gets ready for this fresh and exciting endeavor, our moods quicken.
I had trouble sleeping the night before we left Camp Lemonnier. It was not the fear of danger; it was the eagerness to begin the mission but the fear that the mission would not have enough of an impact to make a difference. Our team of health care professionals consists of one physician assistant, a senior combat medic and a registered nurse. Our mission was simple from an academic standpoint: demonstrate first aid to educational directors from remote areas so they may better serve their community by sharing their knowledge with fellow educators, gain skills to decrease complications and stabilize injuries so advanced medical care can be pursued.
This was not a combat mission; this was a project of faith, sharing, and team building with the population, in the country that is kind enough to host us as guests. This is about lasting friendships and enhancing self-reliance. This is important, positive, and provides lasting, tangible results.
As the team left camp the following morning, everything brightens. The clouds parted, the sun more radiant and the smell of the ocean spray tints the air. I feel lighter than I have in days. This is it, the reason I chose to do what I do. Helping people and building on foundations of friendship and collaboration which already exist, experiencing new cultures and sharing practices. I have been lucky in this regard; the military has been kind to me, a veteran of 25 years.
We arrive at the team house and moods again elevate. The final planning for the next two days is in high gear, full speed ahead. We met with the regional team and developed a plan of action for the next two days. We partnered with another team who we have not previously worked with. Planning and pre-execution checks with team huddles are the key to success with any mission. Our teams become united; the entire group hopes and strives for success. After the long drive and the height of excitement, I am suddenly exhausted. I sleep well the night before our mission begins.
Finally, the big day arrives. I woke up early to shower and prepare my gear; it felt a bit strange not inspecting and checking my combat gear. It is not needed; this is a mission of trust, confidence and alliance. I stepped outside my room to a cool breeze, a brilliant sunrise and glistening mountains. The first call to prayer is heard in the distance as the local populace begins their day. This is a society where early to bed is early to rise, where the day begins at sunrise and the hard labor is done before the heat of the day.
This is a place where the community works together building their future, an epitome of teamwork which produces benefits for all. It is the same cooperation and group effort I see sustaining the native villages of Alaska, the partnerships that stabilize and strengthen the links as the years pass. The community develops and grows in response.
The drive to our meeting area was 45 minutes and I was excited to get started. We talk about how great this project is and hope our influence and interaction is positive. The facility was not a fancy hotel conference room, or even a westernized classroom, but it was well kept, conducive to our instruction and contained all the technical items we required to present our ideas. Our peers arrived with an air of excitement. They were excited to learn new practices and build cohesion and commonality.
The class was an inquisitive bunch, intelligent and fun. We shared our first aid practices and they shared their thoughts and obstacles to first aid. They sought our knowledge and we sought their best practices. Together we learned, laughed and bonded. The two days passed in a lightning speed haze. Memories are engrained and friendships are, in fact, born. The end of our second day was both blissful and unhappy. It would have been nice to have more time, to share and learn even more with our new partners, but we knew our time was limited. We seized every moment to make it as enhancing as possible. We smiled, laughed and said our farewells.
After a short battle with a flat tire we developed during the day, we began our journey back to camp. There was a bit of melancholy within the team. Being in the military, it is all too common to develop amity and establish bonds which last only a short while. It is not something any of us really become adapted to, it’s just a part of the job we dedicate our lives to.
I may never see the outcome of our joint efforts and collaboration, but I know in my heart that what we participated in was good, worthy and right. Back at camp too soon and already a new project, with a once-in-a-lifetime chance to partner with another country, is barreling down the pipes. My excitement renews.