“This exercise demonstrates the power of Navy Medicine as part of an integrated naval combat capability,” said Vice Admiral Darin K. Via, Navy Deputy Surgeon General and Deputy Chief, BUMED. “There was operational planning and coordination within the Navy-Marine Corps team and at all levels within One Navy Medicine. This exercise will allow us to better evaluate how we deploy and run an expeditionary medical facility (EMF) in support of major combat operations. It was a successful test of how our units can organize, train and equip troops for forced labor by the combatant commandos.
Keen Sword 23 is a biannual Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command-scheduled, and U.S. Pacific Fleet-sponsored field training exercise (FTX). The joint/bilateral FTX runs until November 19. KS23 is designed to improve combat readiness and interoperability between Japan and the US while strengthening bilateral relations and demonstrating the US’s determination to support the security interests of allies and partners in the region.
In KS23, Navy Medicine practiced expeditionary hospitalization employment on the First Island Chain with bilateral cooperation with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF). The First Island Chain refers to the first chain of major Pacific island groups from the mainland East Asian continental coast.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command requested that Navy Medicine provide an EMF and support elements to address capacity gaps in the First Island Chain, with EMF capability to receive, triage, treat, and process mass casualty casualties.
BUMED provided a small headquarters of NMFP, from Naval Base San Diego, and EMF 150-Alpha, from Camp Pendleton, California, to support medical-related training scenarios at Camp Foster, Marine Corps Base SD Butler, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.
To facilitate planning, BUMED eased its recent organizational restructuring that closely aligns functions with the Navy’s operational commands. This included the establishment of a Maritime Headquarters (MHQ) and Maritime Operations Center (MOC) at BUMED which allowed the command to be better integrated into the planning process of the US Indo-Pacific Command.
In addition to the HQ element of the NMFP and EMF 150-A, the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) Okinawa and Yokosuka provided additional involvement in the mass casualty scenario.
With Navy Medicine units working together, the BUMED assets integrated with a JGSDF medical base at a Naha Hospital in Okinawa, and conducted scenario assessments and response exercises, receiving casualties from III Marine Expeditionary Forces aid stations and JGSDF pharmacies.
BUMED involvement in KS23 showed a new laser focus on preparedness and operational medicine – man, train and rest.
“As we pivot to embrace our new mission and organizational structure, NMFP and all subordinate commands will continue to support the warfighter,” said Vice Admiral Guido F. Valdes, commanding officer of NMFP. “We achieve this support by ensuring that our operational platforms are optimally staffed, trained and equipped; the war fighter is physically and mentally ready to fight tonight; installation and warfare commander is fully supported; and we continue to lead the way in health and medical research to improve the readiness of the Joint Forces for deployment.
Navy Medicine historically played a major role in the implementation of the military health care mission at Military Treatment Facilities (MTF). In the 2017 and 2019 National Defense Authorization Acts for Fiscal Years, Congress called for changes to the military health system (MHS), including the transfer of all MTFs to the Defense Health Agency by September 30, 2021.
Navy Medicine’s participation in a major bilateral and joint exercise of this scale is a first since the recent MHS transformation.
“BUMED has not participated in an exercise like this in a long time, on this scale,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jefferson M. Moody, director of future plans, N55, and MHQ/MOC future operations director at BUMED. “KS-23 serves as an FTX environment for Navy Medicine force elements to maneuver with the joint force and promote bilateral partnerships and HSS (health services support) interoperability.”
Naval Medical Forces Pacific oversees 10 NMRTCs on the West Coast and Pacific Rim that staff, train, and equip medical troops primarily in military treatment facilities. NMFP also oversees eight research labs that deliver cutting-edge health and medical research to improve the deployment readiness and survivability of our Joint Forces.