18th MEDCOM host Armed Forces of the Philippines, USINDOPACOM veterinarians food, animal CBRN protection subject matter expert exchange

Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Troops pose for group photos after the Balikatan 2023 Inaugural Health Service Symposium Series-Veterinarian Subject Matter Expert Exchange in Manilla, Philippines, April 20, 2023. Balikatan is an annual exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military designed to strengthen bilateral interoperability, improve capabilities, and reinforce the shared security relationship built over decades of training and cooperation. More than 17,600 troops are participating in Balikatan 2023, the 38th iteration of the exercise. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Hughes/Released) (Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Hughes)

By Sgt. 1st Class Timothy HughesMay 23, 2023

MANILA, Philippines — Water and food are arguably the number one and two basic human needs required to survive.

According to a healthline.com article by Natalie Silver titled “How Long Can You Live Without Food”, with no food and no water, the maximum time the body can survive is thought to be about one week. With water only, but no food, survival time may extend to two or three months. The article was medically reviewed by Adam Bernstien, MD, ScD.

Naturally, this leads us to question what happens if a country’s food resources runs out, or are compromised, due to natural or manmade contamination, illnesses or disease.

This is the question the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. Army and Navy teams of veterinarians, environmental science officers, entomologists, food inspectors, and public health practitioners collectively attempted to solve during the Balikatan 2023 Inaugural Health Service Symposium Series-Veterinarian Subject Matter Expert Exchange.

“Our engagement with the Philippine Veterinary providers focuses on collaboratively sharing ideas, challenges and best practices as applied to approaches and technologies for rapid and accurate assessment, detection, protection and mitigation of food during Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear events. Also, the health effects and casualty management of military working dogs affected by CBRN agents and new strategies to monitor and control vector borne diseases,” said U.S. Army Master. Sgt. Christopher Roach, the Clinical Operations Sergeant Major with 18th Medical Command.

Food Protection

Protecting food from contamination was categorized in two parts: accidental contamination and intentional contamination.

According to U.S. Army Sgt. Andrew Smith, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Branch Food Inspection with Public Health Activity-Fort Lewis, the accidental contamination can be caused by human error including food handling procedural mistakes or inoperable storage machines such as refrigerating units malfunctioning.

He explained how the U.S. military takes measures to mitigate those errors through routine inspections by certified food inspectors as well other situational based measures that are implemented based on the type of food being consumed (canned, dry, wet, etc.)

The Meal Ready-To-Eat, widely known as the MRE, is typically associated with Soldiers in basic combat training and food rations for combat arms Troops in the field. However, it can be used as a back-up plan for food in case of CBRN situations.

MREs are packaged with two layers of protection to decrease its vulnerability to contamination and spoilage.

The outer layer consists of a commonly known plastic, polyester. It’s a strong but non-food grade plastic that helps prevent liquid contamination. It also acts as a first shield against heat radiation, which could speed the process of food spoilage.

A little known fact is in addition to protecting against water contamination, the polyethylene terephthalate plastic and foil outlining on wrapped directly around and touching the food, respectively, acts as a protector against oxygen and carbon dioxide. Without that layer of protection, the MRE’s shelf life would dramatically decrease from its shelf life, which ranges from a little under two years to over eight years depending on storage temperature conditions.

Smith said intentional contamination happens when people compromise food or water sources for various reasons ranging from a disgruntled employee seeking revenge on his former employee in the civilian sector, to a traditional or non-traditional adversary wanting to degrade the public’s trust in its a nation’s government or to militarily cause harm to forces by degrade their ability to fight on a large scale.

Entomology

Understanding the relationship between insects and their relationship to humans, the environment and other organisms is critical to understanding food safety and growth of livestock.

Disease carrying insects, though small, can have a major impact on a military force’s readiness level.

“In the Philippines, it’s a tropical country, we have a high rate of dengue disease,” said Armed Forces of the Philippines 1st Lt. Veronica De Leon, a dual rolled operation officer and preventive medicine officer with the Veterinarian Corps at Fort Magsaysay Army Station Hospital, 7th Infantry Division.

When a military member or dependent is infected by dengue, it becomes a time consuming process to care for the individual.

“It greatly effects us whenever we have high cases, especially children and military dependents, the Veterinary Corps officer said.

She said preventive measures taken included doing mosquito fogging and misting operations on military camps and conducting education campaigns for military dependents.

Agroterrorism

One form of weaponizing food against a government is agroterrorism, a subset of agrocrime which involves a terrorist directly attacking crops and livestock to disrupt a nation’s economy and food supply.

According to U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jen Simmons, the department head of Navy Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit 6, livestock bioterrorism is considered attractive to terrorists for many reasons including the easy employment of anti-livestock biological agents and its potential enormous economic consequences.

The USINDOPACOM veterinarians shared various ways to detect insects on livestock from high tech machinery to having a basic understanding of where insects like to live: in places the animal can scratch or swipe with its tail.

Vetting which companies are allowed to distribute products on the food market is a protective measure the Philippines practice to prevent widespread foodborne illnesses.

“We protect citizens’ through food safety by giving them hygienic measures – especially good manufacturing practices. We get our resources from (suppliers know) for good management of their products,” De Leon said,

Protecting Military Working Dogs Under Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Conditions

If a dog is man’s best friend, the military working dog can be considered mankind’s 4-legged guardian angel.

The military working dog continues to play a critical role in protecting its handlers, other Troops, and civilians. Their role can include tracking humans buried under rubble during a disaster situation to finding explosives on urban or rural battlefields.

The AFP veterinarians emphasized their desire to increase their proficiency at protecting their furry friends under CBRN conditions.

The Americans introduced their Filipino-Veterinarian counterparts to the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology, Mission Oriented Protective Posture equipment.

The JSLIST system has five levels of protective posture ranging from Level-0 requiring the Troop to carry a protective mask with other system components readily available, to Level-4. Level-4 requires the suit, boots, protective mask, and gloves to be worn.

“The suits are quite heavy and I can tell I honestly could barely breathe just by wearing the suit with the gloves on, I don’t even have the mask,” De Leon said. “It takes a lot of effort to wear that and you really have to be strong in wearing that suit and of course you really have to know what you’re going to do in protecting yourself and of course the others.”

One of the biggest challenges both Allies considered was what is the best method of decontaminating a K-9 with considerations to the best type of decontamination platform and fabrics worn by the dog while on missions.

Leather and certain materials are not able to be decontaminated as easily as others. A standing practice is to properly dispose of contaminated muzzle masks and leash systems made with material that are unsafe for second usage with pets in CBRN environments.

The AFP veterinarians wore JSLIST gear at MOPP-4 minus the protective mask. One notable issue was the difference in dexterity of the hands while wearing the protective gloves.

“Imagine wearing this in a contaminated environment and having to decontaminate a dog,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Victoria Fuentes, the NCOIC of the Joint Base-Lewis McChord clinic with RHC-FL.

“I just want to thank our U.S. counterparts for having this lecture,” De Leon said. “This is very informative for us and we are so grateful and truly excited to do all of these things and of course to adapt the subject expertise that you have given us.

18th Medical Command is U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s senior medical asset and serves as the Theater Medical Command for land forces under U.S. Army Pacific. It is responsible for alleviating many medical dilemmas including coordinating medical logistics throughout USINDOPACOM’s area of operations, command and control of medical assets throughout the region, theater patient movement, assisting countries with medical surveillance – at their invite – in addition to hosting global health engagements via subject matter expert exchanges.

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