Okinawa hospital works to ensure deployments don’t disrupt care
CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — The war on terrorism has three stages for sailors now: “You’ve been, you’re there or you’re going,” says Lt. Joseph Borup, an information technology officer with U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.
The facility has seen an increase in the number of people deployed to Iraq through the Navy’s individual augmentation program, but staff say it has not affected the hospital’s ability to support the military here.
Borup returned Sept. 9 from a six-month deployment to Kuwait as an augmentee, and he was voicing a fact of life Navy leaders have expressed many times this year as they encourage sailors of various specialties to be prepared to support the global war.
The Navy’s individual augmentation program provides sailors to supplement units deployed for operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
The program has “kept the [war’s demands] from overwhelming any one command with its need for personnel,” said Lt. Perry J. Leonard, the Okinawa hospital’s plans, operations and medical intelligence officer.
Sailors — even those stationed at shore billets such as the hospital — need to be ready to deploy at all times, Leonard said.
Lt. j.g. Michael McPherson, the regional protection officer for Commander, Naval Forces Japan, said other specialties being called upon include information technology, construction/ electrician, builders, cryptology, security and public works.
More than 11,000 sailors are serving ashore in the 26 countries under the U.S. Central Command. More than 8,500 of them are serving as augmentees for ground forces, said Navy spokesman Lt. Trey Brown.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen predicted that this year the number of active-duty augmentees is going to go up, “and they may double over the next year,” according to a Navy NewsStand report in July.
The Okinawa hospital currently has 16 sailors deployed through the program; four more are preparing to go, Leonard said.
This is a “marked increase over the past two years,” he said. “The majority of the people we deploy to IA missions are medical professionals: surgeons, emergency medicine physicians, critical care nurses, etc.”
Before the hospital supports a request, Leonard said, the command ensures vacancies lasting six months to a year won’t harm the hospital’s ability to deliver to local medical care.
Depending on the mission, sailors here have received notice of as little as a week or as much as three months before being deployed, Leonard said. The key, he added, is to be prepared so “you don’t have to jump through hoops at the last minute.”
Borup said his augmentee deployment differed from most. Instead of filling a gap in an established unit, he served with augmentees from throughout the Navy who formed Detachment B at the Expeditionary Medical Facility Kuwait.
Sailors can learn more about the individual augmentation program at Navy Knowledge Online, www.nko.navy.mil.