NEPMU7;s job: Keeping forces in good health
Stars and Stripes November 23, 2004
SIGONELLA, Sicily — The main enemies of Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit 7 don’t carry guns, but they can be deadly. And they’re everywhere.
The 29 sailors and three civilians of the unit fight enemies ranging from single-cell protozoa to malaria-carrying mosquitoes for deploying sailors, Marines, civilians and even vacationing family members.
“Our job is force health protection,” said Dr. (Capt.) Alan Yund, NEPMU7’s officer in charge. “That means keeping people healthy at home and when deployed.”
To do this, the unit is staffed by a handful of medical officers trained in a variety of specialties such as industrial health and entomology (the study of insects) plus enlisted preventive medicine and lab technicians.
Tucked into a temporary building sitting in a barracks parking lot at Sigonella’s Naval Air Station II, the unit provides health protection to Navy and Marine Corps forces in the U.S. European and Central commands’ areas of responsibility.
“From 2000 to 2003, we went to over 40 different countries in the region, either operational or exercise missions of some sort,” said Yund. “It’s obviously critically important for our people to be healthy — not to be sick, not to be injured.”
In the past two years, the unit has sent teams to a malaria outbreak among Marines in Liberia, embedded with other Marines to detect chemical weapons during Operation Iraqi Freedom I, and inspected a camp site in Poland, which was to house U.S. military personnel during a multinational exercise.
It’s a job that keeps the unit on its toes.
“If you want to stay in one spot, it’s probably not for you,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Bray said of the unit’s mission.
Assigned sailors say they keep their bags packed.
“Within three hours we can go to the flight line and be ready to board a plane,” said Bray.
Petty Officer 1st Class Enrique Pallesco was on leave last year when he got a call to deploy to Liberia for the malaria outbreak.
Many unit members deployed with Marine units before arriving at NEPMU7. But they get even more training once they arrive.
“One of the things we do is go to a field medical school,” Pallesco said. “It’s a seven-week school where they teach us about being with the Marines — land navigation, forced marches, weapons and first aid.”
Though the majority of its deployments are with Marines, the unit also checks ports where Navy ships are expected to dock.
“We talk to the hospital, find what their capabilities are for emergency treatment, talk to public health … port liaison,” he said.
They’ll also check to see if the pier’s potable water system actually carries clean water.
NEPMU7 will soon be sending its 12-member Forward Deployed Preventive Medicine Unit to the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom III. At the same time, it will deploy two other small teams.
“You’re packed up anyway, so you’re ready to go,” said Pallesco.
Travelers' clinic available
Whether for a Marine deploying to the Middle East or a family member heading on an African safari, the Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit 7 can provide medical advice to make the trip as healthy as possible.
The Naval Air Station Sigonella, Sicily-based unit’s Travel Medicine Clinic gives the base’s personnel recommendations, vaccinations and prescriptions for prophylaxis drugs for either official or personal travel.
“A lot of the population doesn’t know we have a travel clinic,” said Lt. Cmdr. Leo Murphy, the unit’s department head for deployment readiness and lab services.
Base personnel can make an appointment with the clinic by calling DSN 624-9227 or 624-9251. Callers will first be asked a number of questions regarding their medical needs and travel plans. They will then be given an appointment either at the hospital or flight line clinic.
Unit personnel will research the requirements for the area where the travelers are going and provide information, immunizations and prescriptions at the appointment.
— Jason Chudy