MADISON, Wis. -- Five members of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force visited the Wisconsin National Guard in early June as part of the Defense Department’s State Partnership Program, administered by the National Guard Bureau.
The visit, according to Maj. Jessica Kelly, the Wisconsin National Guard’s State Partnership Program coordinator, was “amazing.”
“The intent of this visit was to build upon the medical introductory exchange that took place in fiscal year 2022,” Kelly said.
In March 2022, Wisconsin National Guard members traveled to Papua New Guinea to observe how the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) medical services operated. This year, medical officers from the PNGDF visited the 135th Medical Company Area Support in Waukesha, the Wisconsin Military Academy at Fort McCoy, and the 115th Medical Group at Truax Field in Madison.
“This exchange was unique in its ability to incorporate both Army and Air National Guard representation,” Kelly said.
The PNG medical officers presented a variety of experiences and disciplines. Maj. Louisa Wanma is the PNGDF military hospital’s second-in-command and a medical lab scientific officer. Capt. Philomena Marai is a registered nursing officer serving at Lombrum Naval Base on the island of Manus. Capt. Ryan Manzin is the commanding officer of the PNGDF preventative health platoon and an environmental health officer. Lt. Job Barnabas is a mental health nurse, and Warrant Officer Jerry Aihi is an experienced community health worker and the officer in charge of combat medical training for soldiers and recruits at the PNGDF Goldie River Training Depot.
During their visit to Wisconsin, the PNGDF officers learned and exchanged practices and techniques on the fundamentals of medical training, suicide prevention, behavioral health, medical readiness, combat medic resiliency training, tactical trauma assessment, massive hemorrhage control, wound management, shock recognition, fractures, care under fire, and preventative medicine.
“We’ve learned a lot of things, I will say, we don’t have in our country or don’t do,” Wanma said. “We’re understanding how your National Guard operates here. There are some things we learned on Sunday on how we do our business, and some of the things we learned can be helpful to us.”
Aihi said the visit was a privilege for the PNGFD officers.
“It’s sort of like the exchange program we have, and coming here to see the training and the kinds of things we need to know so when we go back we can try to exchange our knowledge with the service men and women in Papua New Guinea,” Aihi said.
Wanma pointed out a key difference in the medical training between the Wisconsin National Guard and Papua New Guinea.
“It would be interesting if they come and [Aihi] shows them what he does when he improvises,” she said.
Manzin explained that the Wisconsin National Guard has more resources and dedicated support for its training.
“We don’t have that support, so we do improvise,” Manzin said. “Whatever [Aihi] does is all improvised. When he wants to run a training, when he asks for support, there is no support. We don’t have this continuous training.”
Aihi said medical teams from the Australian and New Zealand militaries will bring training aids for medical training. But those resources do not stay in Papua New Guinea when the Australians and New Zealanders depart.
“So we don’t do refresher training,” Aihi said. He also said U.S. service members receive individual first aid kits while PNGDF members do not.
“When we go for our civil duties or actions, we go without this,” Aihi said. “If they are injured, we have to get support from the civilian hospitals — we take our soldiers directly to their hospitals for medical treatment.”
Manzin and Aihi noted that English is not their primary language. In fact, more than 800 languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea, with pidgin serving as a common language between groups.
“For us to pick up something you are teaching, it is better with the video because we can see it,” Manzin said. “For you to stand and teach us [in English], we can take in a little, but not everything.”
Kelly said additional takeaways from the visit included adding more academics on mental health and how to build resiliency within the force, as well as drug and alcohol preventative medicine and recovery medicine.
“We learned that Papua New Guinea is starting to emphasize and incorporate more conversations on mental health and whole health concepts,” Kelly said.
Upcoming State Partnership Program engagements with Papua New Guinea include Wisconsin National Guard legal representatives participating in a legal exchange hosted by the Defense Institute for International Legal Studies and a disaster response exchange and exercise hosted by the U.S. Army Pacific to support the PNGDF in building disaster response capacity within the country.
The State Partnership Program has been successfully building relations around the world for 30 years and now includes 88 partnerships with 100 nations. The Wisconsin National Guard has a State Partnership Program relationship with Nicaragua as well as Papua New Guinea.