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Story Last modified at 11:54 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27, 2011

From the Gobi to the Guard
Mongolians visit Alaska for military medical exercise

BY ZAZ HOLLANDER
Alaska Star

photo:Military

Two members of the Utah Army Reserve conduct an impromptu dental examination on 2nd Capt. Delgermaa Battomor, an emergency management official from Mongolia, during the 2011 Arctic Care exercise in Northway in late April.

Three Mongolian officials came to Alaska earlier this month to learn more about providing medical care in a vast land.

Mongolia sounds a lot like Alaska – a sometimes brutally cold place with few roads, one big city that holds nearly half the population, and remote residents who struggle at times for high-level health care.

The officials came in partnership with the Alaska National Guard to participate in Arctic Care, an interagency military exercise that trains participants to work in remote settings but also provides medical services to village residents who have limited access to care.

The Mongolian officials, who sat down for a visit at the Star last week, said they face incredible challenges providing basic medical care across a vast terrain with few roads and still-developing technology.

"Sometimes, especially during emergencies and disasters, we cannot deliver medical services to remote areas, we cannot deliver services to pregnant women," said Dr. Chinbaatar Bayarmaa, a medical-care policy officer with the national Ministry of Health.

"Pregnancy is a big problem... normal delivery is OK but a complicated delivery it's very, very hard," said Mongolian Army Col. Davaadorj Rendoo.

Arctic Care 2011 was based in Fairbanks, but served villages as far west as Galena and as far north as Anatuvuk Pass on the North Slope. Various teams spent about three days in each village. The trio ended up in Northway with a team from the Utah Army Reserve.

Mongolia is fairly similar to Alaska until you get down to the details. Smoggy air in the city of Ulaanbaatar results from families burning coal to keep warm. Rural residents live not in villages but travel from place to place as nomads following herds of camels, horses, cows, sheep or goats.

The tie-in for the Mongolian officials "is that they are challenged with similar circumstances in their country with very remote communities with limited to no services," said Alaska Army National Guard Maj. Wayne Don, who served as chaperone for the visit.

Don lives with his family in Eagle River.

Asked about transportation, the Mongolian officials said they don't have medical helicopters and can only use military helicopters if an emergency is declared.

photo:Military

Three Mongolian officials recently visited Alaska for a multi-agency training exercise in providing medical care to remote places. The officials are, from left, 2nd Capt. Delgermaa Battomor, Mongolian Army Col. Davaadorj Rendoo, and Dr. Chinbaatar Bayarmaa, a medical-care policy officer with the national Ministry of Health.

But health workers find ways to get around, they said.

One worker, basically the Mongolian equivalent of a physician's assistant, visits patients using a motorcycle in summer. That doesn't work in winter.

So instead he uses a camel or a horse, taking medicine to a home three or four hours away, spending the night, then returning the next day.

Roughly half of Mongolia's population of 2.7 million live in the "open areas" outside the city, the officials said.

Along with the Army colonel and public health official, a representative from the country's emergency management agency also attended the exercise: 2nd Capt. Delgermaa Battomor.

The three didn't just come to Alaska to work. They spent some time at local restaurants – Don took them up the aerial tram to Seven Glaciers at Alyeska Resort – and visited the Dimond Mall and Wal-Mart. The colonel didn't seem all that impressed with the latter.

"We could find the same things (in Mongolia) but it looks different – most of our stuff is imported from Korea and Japan," he said.

Mongolia and the Guard paired up originally in 2003. That same year, Mongolia began sending troops to Iraq as a member of coalition forces. Mongolian troops remain in Afghanistan.

Alaska and Mongolia train together. Alaskan medical teams have treated people in Mongolia, according to the U.S. Army. Mongolia has hosted bilateral exercises.

Don and Matthew have also travelled to Mongolia.

Asked for their first impressions of Alaska, the three visitors remarked on the clean air, refreshingly cool temperatures, and trees.

"One good thing is no traffic jams," Rendoo said.

Apparently gridlock is a major problem in Ulaanbaatar.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Thursday, April 28, 2011.