State Partnerships Reemerge with Vaccination Visit
Article by Spc. Christina Chang, 29th MPAD. Photos by Sgt. Chazz Kibler, 29th MPAD, and Staff Sgt. James Johnson, 58th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade Public Affairs
Members of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina met with their medical counterparts in the Maryland National Guard to learn best practices to vaccinate their citizens during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, June 7-11, 2021. During the visit, they learned about the operation of the different types of vaccination sites and mobile vaccination capabilities.
Entities including the military, federal, state, and municipal governments, as well as volunteer and religious organizations, have collaborated to get more people vaccinated in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and restore a sense of normalcy. U.S. Army Maj. Harrison Bittenbender is Maryland’s state partnership program director and helped coordinate the collaborative AFBiH visit.
“The sooner we get [the AFBiH] the information about vaccination sites, the more likely they would be able to set up their own vaccination sites quickly and efficiently without making the same mistakes that [the MDNG] did in Maryland,” said Bittenbender.
According to Bittenbender, the general lack of vaccine doses in the Balkan Region influenced the decision to align Maryland’s SPP training with Bosnia and Herzegovina this year on helping them to develop their COVID-19 response capabilities. Maj. Gen. Timothy Gowen, the adjutant general of Maryland, will visit the AFBiH in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of his travels to Europe to discuss military-government partnerships focused on enhancing the COVID-19 response capabilities of European allies.
Several visiting members of the AFBiH also had the opportunity to personally experience the vaccination process when they received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses at the Maryland Medical Detachment at Camp Fretterd Military Reservation in Reisterstown, Maryland. The personnel toured the facility, learned about the different vaccines available in Maryland, as well as how to handle administrative paperwork.
“[The AFBiH] didn’t have a chance until now to do vaccinations in our country. We are learning how [the MDNG] manages the whole situation,” said 2nd Lt. Anja Rula, an AFBiH medical professional. “I like the drive thru vaccination idea, because it is easy and it doesn’t take a lot of time to do it. This gives us an idea of what we should do in our country.”
Rula and the rest of the AFBiH members visited the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital in Baltimore, the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, and the Six Flags America site in Prince George’s County.
The Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital, like other sites, primarily serves the local communities in providing COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and treatments for patients who test positive for COVID-19. The site showed the AFBiH how Maryland provided comprehensive COVID-19 services to more people free of charge, and the staff with the medical expertise necessary to provide these services.
“We all speak the same language in terms of wanting to really attack COVID-19,” said Cheryl Stiles, the director of nursing at the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital. “So whether you’re from Bosnia [and Herzegovina] … I thought it was great to be able to partner and really share our experiences so that we can, as a group, unite and really defeat and control this disease.”
“[The MDNG and the Armed Forces of BiH] have a positive relationship,” said Batarilo. “Our mutual cooperation comes from sharing different areas of cooperation like exercises, courses, exchanges, and other experiences in our state partnership with the National Guard of Maryland.”
Batarilo also mentioned that in addition to other Western countries, like the United States, Bosnia also works with its neighboring countries and organizations, and has received most of their vaccine supply from their donations. Since 2003, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a part of the National Guard State Partnership Program and paired with the MDNG.
“It’s good when you learn from all experiences, even if they were bad or good ones,” Batarilo said. “I believe that we can together learn something from all these unexpected circumstances and challenges in order to prepare and plan for the future.”