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NEWS | Aug. 2, 2022

United States Internal Medical Physician Works Aboard HMAS Canberra

By Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Nancy Cotton

PACIFIC OCEAN -- Royal Australian Navy Landing Helicopter Dock HMAS Canberra welcomed United States Navy Physician Lieutenant Commander Hillary Smalley onboard with the medical team for Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022. Her role as part of mobile unit Fleet Surgical Team five means she deploys across United States vessels, but for RIMPAC, Smalley was provided with an opportunity to work alongside medical experts from Australia and New Zealand to work through medical scenarios testing the teams’ capability and interchangeability.

The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity while fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships among participants critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2022 is the 28th exercise in the series that began in 1971.

RIMPAC provided ample opportunity for interchangeability between partner nations and the medical integration is just one area this has been realized.

Smalley is part of Fleet Surgical Team Five with the United States Navy and joined Landing Helicopter Dock, HMAS Canberra, one of Australia’s two largest vessels for the sea phase of the RIMPAC.

Smalley is part of a deployable fleet surgical team, so deploying and augmenting a ship’s medical team is normal for her. However, she said the opportunity to embed with an Australian ship and crew was an amazing new opportunity.

“I am based in San Diego as an internal medicine physician, so usually deal with complicated patients both ashore and at sea,” Smalley said.

With a medical team composition from Australia, the United States and New Zealand working within Canberra’s Primary Casualty Receiving Facility (PCRF) for RIMPAC, it’s been an excellent chance to be tested under pressure in a mass casualty scenario.

“It’s great to see that Australian practices are very similar to the U.S, which was evident during our casualty exercise.” Smalley said. “It provided a time for us to all work together, respond quickly, prepare and set up our trauma bays and understand our roles.”

Although embarking members onboard from coalition forces has identified small nuances, the team all appreciated just how similar the three nations are in terms of their training, goals and real time exercises.

“There are small insignificant differences like a name for a piece of kit for example, but in the main everything is the same, which makes integration very easy,” she said. “During the exercise, I was the team leader for the resuscitation casualty, the whole exercise was a success and as the scenario rolled out it allowed opportunities for the teams to work together across the whole PCRF.

According to Smalley, the similarities outweigh the differences between the units.

“The ship is so well equipped and if my Australian equivalent member was not onboard I could confidently just jump in and work with the team in a real scenario,” said Smalley.
“The interchangeability between our nations enables us to work extremely well together and says a lot about the relationship between the U.S, Australia and New Zealand.

It’s not all about work though and Smalley has enjoyed her time immensely onboard the Aussie ship.

“The food is amazing, it’s so good,” she said. “I love the space onboard, too, and just being able to work out in the gym - it’s great to have that available and it’s so clear to see how happy this ship is, the culture onboard is great and I have felt so welcome.”

Smalley and other members from partner nations are onboard for the whole of the tactical sea phase of RIMPAC.

Twenty-six nations, 38 ships, three submarines, more than 170 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC 2022 from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
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