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News | July 24, 2012

JTF-Bravo treats indigenous Guna Yala in Panama

By by Tech. Sgt. Brannen Parrish Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Members of Joint Task Force-Bravo, partnered with the Panama Ministry of Health and the Panama National Border Service, to provide medical and dental assistance to nearly 1600 indigenous people during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise, July 17-20.

The cooperative team provided medical and dental care to the Guna tribe of the Guna Yala region. The Guna inhabit many small islands along the northeastern coast of Panama, between El Porvenir and Colombia.

The team evenly split the four day MEDRETE on the islands of Carti and Nargana, seeing 1594 patients.

"Compared to all the other MEDRETEs I've been on, this was the first time that there were more host-nation providers than U.S. military providers," said Army Lt. Col. Bart Diaz, Medical Element Commander, JTF-Bravo. "It all came together in an integrated fashion with our host nation providers, from the Panama Border Service and Ministry of Health working alongside U.S. military medical providers."

More than 350 patients received 651 immunizations, while the pharmacy dispensed 757 prescription medications. The medical team performed 18 pap smears and delivered three babies.

Two Guna mothers were so appreciative of the team that they named their newborn babies after Air Force Maj. Brent Waldman and foreign service national, Dr. Wilmer Amador, both dentists with the Medical Element from JTF-Bravo.

"It's really an honor that a mother would give her child my name," said Waldman. "It's really amazing."

Joint Task Force-Bravo partners with host-nation health agencies to conduct MEDRETEs throughout Central America and the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility. The exercises alleviate human suffering, develop relationships with host-nations and enhance medical capabilities in the region.

Army Capt. John Schlict, Panama Mission Commander, said the team succeeded in accomplishing its pre-deployment goals.

"Having the MEDRETE combined with the Panama Border Service exercises, JTF-Bravo was able to meet our four mission objectives for this operation, which were to bolster SENAFRONT as a legitimate authority in the region, develop Panamanian medical capacity, execute mission command and improve expeditionary medical capabilities in the region to help the people of Guna Yala."

The team received language support from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3835 out of Panama. The volunteers served as translators for medical screeners, physicians assistants and the pharmacy technician. Nora Terrin, Julia Beach, Lilia Lambert and Magalis Arauz donated a combined total of 480 hours of their week to travel and work with JTF-Bravo members, ensuring doctors and patients could understand one another.
"They did a wonderful job of translating to the patients how to take the medications, and ensuring the patients and medical staff could address their concerns with one another," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Thoney Douangnoy, MEDEL pharmacy technician. "They were wonderful and I definitely couldn't have done my job without them."