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Qualifications match medic to deployed duties

PRISTINA, Kosovo -- When deploying, some people are asked to dig deep and take on responsibilities they would not normally have at their homestations. This is exactly what happened when a medical officer from RAF Lakenheath deployed to Kosovo.

In garrison, Lt. Col. Reba Harris is the deputy commander of the 48th Medical Support Squadron and the flight commander for the clinical laboratory. At Headquarters Kosovo Force located Film City, Pristina, Kosovo, she serves as the Deputy Joint Medical or JMED advisor and as the Senior National Representative to more than 1,700 soldiers, sailors, Airmen and Marines located at Film City and Camp Bondsteel.

As the deputy JMED she supervises more than 40 medical facilities in the KFOR area of responsibility. To that end, Colonel Harris is working with facility directors to validate the medical services available at the facilities.

"We need to know the capabilities of all the facilities," she said. "We are currently attempting to validate all the contacts at all the facilities which can be very difficult. Even though the Air Force rotation is only 120 days, there are nations here with even shorter rotations lasting between 45 to 60 days, which, added to the language barrier, makes validation a very hard process to undertake."

Because the Air Force rotation is shorter than those of the other American armed forces, Colonel Harris is quick to stand up for her service.

"Every time I can, I will stress to people the reasons for our rotation length," she said. "When they learn that our rotation is based on aircraft maintenance needs and footprint size, people can see the background data the decision was based on and comprehend why the Air Force rotations are different from their own."

The medical mission in Kosovo is substantial. Not only do the medical professionals work to care for the soldiers of the Northern Alliance Treaty Organization nations, they provide assistance to Serbians and Albanians. The medical personnel serve as mentors, teachers and coaches to the countries doctors, teaching local nationals to care for themselves through formal and informal training and exercises.

Colonel Harris' work is not just to access the medical facilities and care available for KFOR soldiers. She also serves as the U.S. SNR, a position for which she is uniquely qualified. Not only is she an Air Force officer, she is also a former member of the Army enlisted corps. It is this background, she believes, gives her a distinct advantage when dealing with the military members entrusted into her care.

"I came prepared to do this," the colonel said. "My job is to work with the U.S. armed forces personnel and be their liaison with the other nations that we interact with as part of our day to day jobs. This can be traffic tickets, problems at job sites or even cultural differences that need explaining."

The deployed position is coded as a "core-neutral" position for medical personnel, meaning any medical officer could qualify for it.

"This is the appointment of a lifetime," she said. "It is a challenge that I look forward to, and I'm grateful that leadership gave me the opportunity to perform this mission. I encourage all medical personnel interested in working with 35 other nations that this is the job they should apply for."