Bremerton Operational Symposium Shares Deployment Experiences

Story Number: NNS120611-10Release Date: 6/11/2012 3:12:00 PM
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By Douglas H. Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton Public Affairs

BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- Naval Hospital Bremerton held an Operational Symposium to share personal shipboard and shore-based deployment information, experiences and lessons, June 8.

The Operational forum has become a quarterly event originally created and coordinated by NHB Navy Nurse Corps staff to give recent returnees from deployment the opportunity to share their experience in word and picture. Under the guidance and arrangement of Cmdr. Christine Ward, pediatric nurse practitioner and clinic manager, and Operational Symposium coordinator, the program has expanded over the last 12 months to allow all staff members the ability to share their ship and shore experience.

"I wanted to give all staff members of our deploying platforms a chance to celebrate with others upon their return. I believe in the spirit of morale building, of esprit de corps, and inspiring enthusiasm for the duty that is before us," said Ward.

The symposium is open to all staff members. According to Ward, every staff member can attend the event. Civilians can learn and support active duty staff, as well as add their insight or even share their own experience(s). But the real hope is attracting busy active duty staff members to the event to pick up specific details and descriptive particulars from first-hand experiences from those returned on deployment.

"They will be better prepared when the baton is passed to them by learning about what works and what doesn't, and all the good, bad and the ugly of deployments. These will be the main themes with each speaker giving it their own twist. Those attending will also find a ready personal reference and a point-of-contact to ask more questions," said Ward.

The symposium presented two polar-opposite examples of a ship and a shore deployment. Hospital Corpsman Chief Shawn Kenney spoke on his individual augmentee assignment to Afghanistan and Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Gue, former NHB Multi-Service Ward and Intensive Care Unit head nurse and now senior nurse officer assigned to USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) shared his recent deployment to the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.

Gue focused his deployment talk as part of the Stennis Medical Department from July 25, 2011 to March 2, 2012. "We were gone for 221 days and the entire deployment was one of the best I've ever been on. We were really a small hospital on a small floating city," said Gue, a 26-year Navy veteran.

Gue was part of a team of seven providers, one psychologist, one physical therapist, one radiological health officer, one anesthesiologist, and approximately 35-40 hospital corpsmen. Compiled statistics helped to tell a portion of Gue's story - the Stennis Medical department, augmented by medical personnel from Carrier Air Wing 9, treated 3,600 sick call patients and 2,745 acute care cases; handled 2,855 physical exams; conducted 410 surgeries, and coordinated 2,515 physical therapy appointments.

"Being a medical officer on a ship is career enhancing, not only because there are few billets. But also due to the amount of training we did, which was a lot with many different departments. I also worked with our preventive medicine team, medical readiness team, and our battle dressing stations and repair lockers for general quarters," Gue said, noting that the long days on station supporting Operation Enduring Freedom also took them to great port calls like Singapore.

Kenney's deployment was well beyond the horizon from Gue's in landlocked Afghanistan in 2011-12 with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Kilo Company. Assigned to Forward Operating Base Inkerman in the volatile southern part of the country, Kenney provided medical support as the sole provider for approximately several hundred Marines, 50-100 Afghan National Army personnel and the local populace.

"Being an independent duty corpsman, I got orders to go as soon as I checked in to NHB," Kenney related. "There was three months of training out of (Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command) 29 Palms, including a month in the desert under actual conditions to simulate where we were going down range."

Kenney ran Kilo Company's Battalion Aid Station. He tailored the site to fit his ability and those of two additional corpsmen assigned. Besides the daily norm of sick calls and preventive medicine duties, he went along with vehicle and foot patrols outside the wire and dealt with a lot of trauma cases mostly for the locals and ANA (Afghan National Army). "There were such injuries as open fractures and chest wounds that I took care of. We did what we could and stabilized them to the best of our ability," he said.

Kenney attests that the forward operating base was really just like camping out for seven straight months. But in a hostile environment. "Our Marines could go without water and food, but by God, we had a gym," he noted, stressing that the weight lifting helped deal with the needs for carrying, at minimum, 40 pounds of gear when on foot patrols.

Kenney's recollections of his time there include proud and sad memories. There was pride in seeing his corpsmen, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Vincent Arreola and Hospitalman Garrett McDonald, attain their Fleet Marine Force qualifications, and there is solemn remembrance for two Marines that were killed in action, Cpl. Chris Singer, and Sgt. Joe D'Augustine.

The best day? When his relief, HMC (Chief Hospital Corpsman) Gil Garcia, also from NHB, showed up to relieve him. "When Gil arrived and I did the turn-over with him, that was the happiest day of my life," Kenney said.

From the extremes associated with haze-gray underway to IA boots-on-the-ground, the symposium was deemed a success and continued on a NHB educational tradition.

"I attended last year and it was very good. It's nice having a continuous educational event that brings together staff. During any deployment, there are always lessons learned. This symposium gave us a real opportunity to share the experiences of our current and former staff," said Capt. Mark Turner, NHB executive officer.

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