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  • By Johanna Salinas

Cope North military exercise taking over Northern Marianas

Right beside the largely inactive airport on Rota is the Cope North 18 camp. The Royal Australian Air Force greets guests who enter the area. The camp is a set for humanitarian simulations. “In Australia, we’re part of an expeditionary force,” said Sgt. Cassie Gammie of the RAAF. “So we could be called out at any time for humanitarian aid or disaster relief. At least we’re practicing so we can be ready to respond to extreme situations. We don’t just respond to Australian disasters. We also respond to global disasters, like cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods.” These simulations are excellent for the RAAF, because it is currently assisting Tonga in a cyclone relief effort.

While Rota is small compared to the great continent of Australia, the team hasn’t been able to fully explore the cozy haven. “Rota is beautiful,” said Sgt. Gammie. “This patch of grass we’re currently standing on is all I’ve seen by day. We haven’t had the opportunity to see the island.” Sure enough, the Australian forces appreciated their exercises in the Marianas and would like to return to actually enjoy the Chamorro culture.

The U.S. military’s camp was in walking distance of the Australians, a little closer to Rota’s one main road. “The Expeditionary Medicine team (e-meds team) is just on Rota for a short time and we’ll re-deploy soon to Andersen,” said Lt. Colonel Michelle Schnakenberg. “In real life it depends on the situation and how long we’re needed. We could be anywhere for ten days to three weeks to ten weeks. For this exercise it was only intended for four days.”

Although their time was short, the e-meds were sure to learn how to cope well for stressful disaster situations. “We get immediate feedback of the simulation member of cadre who are watching and feeding the simulation,” said Schnakenberg, who is also a nurse. “They give us more information based on the treatment we are providing. If it’s wrong, the cadre will correct them on the spot or just let the scenario play out and continue to either have the patient deteriorate or get better. So, they’ll add or take away from the scenario.”

Lt. Colonel John Matuszak

Just north of Rota, on Tinian is a smaller simulation. While their camp isn’t as large, the simulation was sure to be just as enlightening for the soldiers. “The hardest simulation I’ve observed was when one of our captains was interviewed by a local news station and didn’t know what was going on with humanitarian assistance,” said Lt. Colonel John Matuszak of the U.S. Army. “They didn’t know where the supplies were going. They were really concerned with the military being here. And in the middle of him giving his simulated interview, a bunch of onlookers showed up and started listening in on the questions he was trying to answer. It was really tough. That was one of the hardest things we do in the military, talking to the media and not making a mistake with what we say and to not misinterpret a question they ask.” It is important for the military to prepare their leaders for how to say the right words for the media. And though a simulated press conference may not be as important as simulated first aid, it can just as mentally exhausting. “We try not to pause the simulation, but sometimes when we’re out here in the sun for long, long hours if we need water or real medical attention we take a break,” said Matuszak. Even little things that just build up can add to the exhaustion. “We have all kinds of insects on Tinian and people get bit, so we have to take care of them.”

Despite the humidity and stressful exercises, Matuszak is thankful to be working in the Marianas. “I love the Marianas,” said Matuszak. “We’re learning new things about the culture here that we haven’t learned before. We love Chamorro food and the hospitality of the Chamorro people. We’ve been really blessed.”


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