The Guam and Hawaii National Guard participated in a virtual subject matter expert exchange (SMEE) on COVID-19 with the Armed Forces of the Philippines as part of the Guard's State Partnership Program.
Normally during a table-top planning scenario in a SMEE, planners respond to a theoretical or historical scenario. Instead, over the three-day virtual engagement in early December, the medical planning teams from each entity discussed how they have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is a medical and operational SMEE looking at the COVID-19 response for the military, but also looking at how we have integrated the response with the civilian sector," said Lt. Col. James Faumuina, 154th Medical Group, Detachment 1 commander. "The Hawaii Guard presented our work with the State Department of Health (DOH) to flatten the curve –specifically, our COVID mapping efforts and our Task Force Medical support. Guam presented their efforts to support the government, and the Philippines showed the mass array of efforts they have been using to respond."
The response in the three disparate areas has varied in some aspects but shared some basic tactics: encouraging social distancing, practicing proper hygiene, utilizing limited lockdowns, and conducting mass testing.
The virtual SMEE's largest challenge was overcoming the 18- to 20-hour time difference. While participants in Guam and the Philippines met in the early morning hours, it was late afternoon the day before in Hawaii.
The SPP is a joint Department of Defense security cooperation program, managed and administered by the National Guard Bureau and executed and coordinated by the geographic combatant commands with personnel provided by the National Guard of the respective partner states. The Guam and Hawaii National Guard share the partnership with the Philippines.
The SMEE validated the relationships the partners have been building with the civilian health care entities in each nation and state before 2020, including SMEEs for at least the past five years.
One of the key areas of discussion was communicating with civilian medical planners who often don't have a tactical focus.
"The military has mobile capability and skill sets that frames our way at problem-solving," said Faumuina. "COVID-19 is the largest and most complex problem we have ever faced. Trying to merge our way of doing business with the civilian response is a big piece of that puzzle. These lessons and examples are what we are going to take away from this exchange to help with future operations."
During a normal SMEE, the scenario being discussed and analyzed is completed, but the COVID pandemic is not over. Part of the discussion focused on the logistics of distributing a vaccine.