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KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — More than 175 U.S. military members, many based in Europe, are finishing their first week of humanitarian and disaster-response exercises in Georgia and Bulgaria.

Rescuer and Medceur ’03 are being held simultaneously for the first time with eight of NATO’s Partnership for Peace states, said Col. William Gardner, commander of the 409th Air Expeditionary Group and co-director of the Medceur exercise. The exercises continue through Sept. 20.

The American contingent includes members from U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Headquarters U.S. Naval Forces Europe, U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army Reserve. More than 500 participants from Georgia, Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Moldova, Turkey and the Ukraine also are taking part.

The U.S. contingent for Medceur is based at Vaziani military base, about 16 miles from Tbilisi in eastern Georgia. Rescuer is a disaster-response, computer-assisted exercise conducted by the U.S. Navy personnel at Vaziani and the Defense University in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“This is a good opportunity to deepen our partnership in a positive humanitarian environment and to provide training to help other countries prepare for any types of natural disasters that may occur,” Gardner said by telephone from Vaziani on Wednesday.

The region in Georgia where the exercises are taking place sits on a major earthquake fault.

The exercises have many facets. Air Force civil engineers, for example, have gutted a 9,600-square-foot medical clinic and are renovating it with the help of local contractors. Total cost of the project is about $150,000.

“It’s a great training experience for us,” said Capt. Chaz Williamson of the 100th Civil Engineering Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, England.

“It allows the people on my team to do their jobs on a scale that they don’t get to do at home, plus they know that they’re making a real difference for the people here,” said Williamson, who is in Georgia with a team of 24 civil engineers.

Air Force and Army medical personnel are visiting local villages bereft of good health care to prescribe eyeglasses, conduct cataract surgeries and screen for glaucoma, said Col. Todd Hess, commander of the 86th Expeditionary Medical Squadron, a team with members from Ramstein Air Base and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Ear, nose and throat specialists also are examining villagers.

Once an eyeglass prescription is made, a local contractor grinds out the glasses for the patient, Hess said.

“We’re really changing some lives,” he said.

The Germany team’s crisis response unit set up a mini-operating room, which includes an intensive care unit, to test its capability in a real-world crisis, Hess said.

In addition, military physicians from the participating nations are teaching courses to Georgian medical workers on cardiopulmonary resuscitation, moulage and handling mass casualties. At the same time, soldiers from the Army Reserve’s 353rd Civil Affairs Command from the Bronx, N.Y., are helping train Georgian government officials in disaster management.

The exercises rotate among Partnership for Peace countries. Georgia became a partnership member in 1994.


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