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Foreign liaison officers bring new perspective to MHS

Image of three men talking to each other Foreign liaison officers fit into the U.S. National Defense Strategy as a way to reinforce partnerships with key allies. Col. Kai Schlolaut (far right), functions as a primary link between the German surgeon general LTG Dr. Ulrich Baumgärtner (center) and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Thomas McCaffery. (Photo provided by Col. Kai Schlolaut)

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As the Military Health System transforms, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs looks to its foreign liaison officers, or LNOs, to continue an exchange of medical information between the United States and international allies.

According to Dr. Chris Daniel, senior adviser for Global Health Engagement, these relationships expand provider skill sets and improve patient care overseas and in domestic military treatment facilities. Strengthening international partnerships is a department goal tied to improving military readiness.

“It is international engagement that provides us the benefits of increasing readiness and strengthening our partnerships,” said Daniel. “It's critically important that we work together to build our medical capacities and increase our interoperability. When we need help, we want our partners to be familiar with how our medical system works and know how to work with us.”

The LNOs fit into the U.S. National Defense Strategy to reinforce partnerships with key allies. Currently, there are five LNOs stationed at Defense Health Headquarters. Health Affairs hosts officers from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Additionally, the Army Office of the Surgeon General hosts two LNOs from France and Japan.

One of those officers is Col. (Dr.) Kai Schlolaut. As the German health foreign liaison officer to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense Health Affairs, Schlolaut functions as a primary link between the German surgeon general, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and their staffs. Schlolaut uses extensive medical experience as an emergency medicine doctor and an anesthesiologist, as well as experience in command positions within the German military to liaise between the two countries. 

Image of man standing next to four flags
As the first German LNO assigned to the MHS, Col. Kai Schlolaut functions as a primary link between the German surgeon general, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and their staffs. (Photo provided by Col. Kai Schlolaut)

“Colonel Schlolaut is very well-spoken and well-connected. His ability to articulate on behalf of the German surgeon general has been invaluable,” Daniel continued.

One of those communication tactics is using “structured dialogue,” which helps both leaders within the U.S.-German relationship focus on relevant topics and come to sustainable solutions. The leaders and their staffs meet once a year to discuss achievements and plan for future objectives.

“Whenever military treatment facility leaders, project managers, or surgeons general change, we have a vision and objectives in place to not start all over,” Schlolaut explained.

Structured dialogue focuses on three areas: operational medicine, public health preventive medicine, and research and development. Schlolaut facilitated projects in each of these areas, improving interoperability by identifying joint training opportunities in tactical casualty combat care like Operation Bushmaster. German and U. S. participation in exercises like Combined Joint Atlantic Serpent improves interoperability through field medical practices while sharing equipment and protocols in a tactical training environment.

The two countries also share information on preventive medicine. Germany is currently assessing the potential threat of tick-borne encephalitis for U.S. military members stationed in Europe, providing the MHS with research and health surveillance data related to tick-borne encephalitis and other risks to U.S. troops.

“We're working closely together to reduce potential harm for deployed service members worldwide,” Schlolaut continued.

This threat includes the current COVID-19 pandemic, where Schlolaut’s role has shifted from organizing training opportunities to fostering collaboration between German and U.S. military researchers. The teams are delving into the genomics of the novel coronavirus. He also advises the German military community stationed in the U.S. on medical measures of protection and behavior in case of an infection.

As the first German LNO assigned to the MHS, Schlolaut feels privileged to set the pace for future LNOs.

“Having me here represents not only the long-lasting friendship that both of our military health systems have had, but also it's an expression of trust and partnership,” he explained. “Whether it’s through routine aspects like training exercises or in crisis situations like the current COVID-19 crisis, having a different perspective is always beneficial. For me personally, it's an honor to be here.”

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