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NEWS | Oct. 29, 2021

Returning Expeditionary Medicine to the Arctic Circle

By Lt. Cmdr. Edward Nixon, SC, USN

Displaying a commitment to European partners and ensuring that the U.S. Navy has the medical readiness infrastructure to respond to a dynamic security environment, Naval Forces Europe (NAVEUR), in coordination with the U.S. Navy Expeditionary Medical Support Command (NEMSCOM), returned to the Norwegian caves.

NAVEUR and NEMSCOM facilitated the return to the cave by delivering an Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF), a 150-bed mobile hospital that can be operated within Norway’s expansive cave structure or moved to respond to any theater contingency. The enhanced medical capability that the EMF brings to northern Europe provides commanders with increased opportunities to develop shared processes and procedures with NATO allies and partners in the region.

“Working with the Norwegian military was an outstanding experience. Their professionalism and capabilities contributed to our success and helped us realize mission success above our usual high-performance parameters,” said LCDR Michael Lucas, a Supply Corps Officer and the NEMSCOM Director of Operations. “Expeditionary Medical Facilities are deployable on short notice and contain many capabilities of a modern hospital. A benefit of the EMF is its self-sufficiency and sustainability due to the variety of Civil Engineering Support Equipment present in the caves. The caves provided an excellent storage solution for quick stow and EMF deployment. The Norwegian military has been extremely cooperative and professional in the support of our mission. We look forward to continued operations with them in the future.”

The Norwegian leadership agreed with Lucas’ comments.

“The move is a clear demonstration that the United States remains committed to the defense of Norway and of Europe,” said Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo, Commander Norwegian Joint Headquarters.

EMFs are deployed to locations around the world, ready to respond to crises that require a significant and sustained medical response. Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Skrypek, a Medical Service Corps officer and NAVEUR Force Medical Planner, worked extensively to return this medical treatment capability to the European theater.

“I’ve been working this project for three years and it is a great feeling to see it across the finish line,” said Skrypek.  “This move shows our commitment to Norway and Europe and will allow us to exercise medical and logistical processes in an Arctic environment, which improves interoperability with NATO allies and partners.”

This EMF is not the first connection between U.S. Navy medicine and Norway, however. Prior to 2003, Navy medicine operated two 500-bed fleet hospitals in the country. The two fleet hospitals, consisting of 450 international standardization organization (ISO) containers and 78 vehicles each, were located in the area of Bogen Bay and provided flexibility and capability throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

These hospitals were used extensively in Operation Desert Storm and were returned to Norway after the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991. During Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003, they were sent to Kuwait and Rota, Spain. Following their support to OIF, they were sent to the U.S. for repair and resupply. In 2007, the smaller and more agile EMF replaced the fleet hospital concept, ushering in a new approach to expeditionary medicine.  

Athough EMFs are smaller than fleet hospitals, they still provide a robust level of support in medical treatment. EMFs are capable of conducting theater hospitalization for the Joint Force and consist of 20 intensive care unit beds, 130 acute care ward beds, 4 operating rooms, an emergency room, and a laboratory, as well as the ability to conduct x-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans. They can store 300 units of blood and 192 units of plasma and their daily throughput can be as high as 30 hospital admissions and 36 surgical cases. The delivery of the EMF in Norway required the use of 195 containers with 165 pieces of Civil Engineering Support Equipment.

"In this era of great power competition, distributing our capabilities around the globe drives down risk,” said Rear Adm. Michael T. Curran, Director, Readiness and Logistics, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U. S. Sixth Fleet. “The movement of an expeditionary hospital to Norway is a perfect example of how U.S. and allied forces provide mutual support in developing a resilient medical and logistics network."

NEMSCOM is on Cheatham Annex in Williamsburg, Va., and is headed by CAPT Robert C. Morrison, MSC, USN.  It is responsible for building and maintaining rapidly deployable medical systems to support contingency operations, humanitarian assistance, and real-world events and exercises around the globe.  In order to address emerging requirements more responsively, Navy Medicine transformed the legacy Fleet Hospitals into more agile, flexible, scalable, modular Expeditionary Medical Facilities (EMF) to support the full range of military operations.  NEMSCOM is in the business of saving lives.  It has a uniquely diverse staff, comprised of active duty, Government Service Civilians and a team of dedicated contract support personnel. Together, they embody the idea of strength through diversity and it is this mix of diverse experts that allows NEMSCOM to be the most capable and adept command within the Department of Defense in regard to the design, production and delivery of deployable medical capabilities.

U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts the full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa.