SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Joint Task Force -Bravo's Medical Element (MEDEL), with support from 1-228th Aviation Regiment, JTF-Bravo Joint Security Forces and Army Forces Battalion, partnered with the Honduras Ministry of Health and the Honduran military to provide medical care to more than 650 people in the remote village of Barra Patuca in the Department of Gracias a Dios, Honduras, during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE), July 17, 2014.
Joint Task Force-Bravo conducts MEDRETEs to enhance partner nation relations through medical training with regional military forces and local civilian organizations while supporting the Honduras Ministry of Health's efforts to provide medical care to the underserviced population.
Barra Patuca is located on the northeastern Caribbean shore of Honduras where the only mode of transportation is by small boat or helicopter. The 1-228th Aviation Regiment provided the transportation of supplies, equipment and personnel to and from the area that can be compared to the Florida Everglades. When the helicopters landed, a wave of people greeted the group and proceeded to help unload the supplies.
"It was an overwhelming sense of joy to see all the help that came to greet us as soon as the Black Hawks landed," said U.S. Army Capt. Erin Velazquez, the officer in charge of the MEDRETE. "Everyone came out to greet us and help take our equipment to the school where the MEDRETE was located. It was truly a team effort."
The JTF-Bravo team, the Honduran Ministry of Health, and the Honduran military worked together to provide preventative medicine to the villagers, including classes on hygiene, preventative dental care, and nutrition. They also provided immunizations to infants, dental care, wellness checkups, medications, and minor medical procedures.
"I think having the Honduran nationals and military working with us showed the community of Barra Patuca that the government still cares and wants to help them," stated U. S. Navy Ensign Alex Iteen, a second year medical student at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. "It was fantastic working side-by-side with the Hondurans. The lieutenant I worked with was really eager to translate for me and help out any way he could."
"It is a good feeling knowing that we are helping patients with their dental problems and alleviating their pain and discomfort," added U. S. Army Spc. Brandon Tigges, a MEDEL dental clinic technician.
Prior to deploying to Honduras, Velazquez worked at an elementary school and was able to obtain some books that she could give to the kids on the MEDRETEs. The children anxiously waited in line to receive their book and immediately began looking at them.
"Before leaving, one of the school's staff was cleaning out some items they were going to discard and asked if I had any use for them and I said "Of course!" So I brought them with me to Honduras. They were all brand new books in Spanish for Pre-K age to about 1st grade level. I couldn't turn them down."
At the end of the day, Velazquez described how it feels to be able to impact hundreds of people's lives through these MEDRETE missions.
"It is a great feeling to know your team has made an impact that could last a lifetime. Whether it is through a memory a child holds or the partnership that is created with the people, the village, and the government entities every time we go on a mission. It is really amazing."
Joint Task Force-Bravo's MEDEL is composed of 64 Army personnel who have come together from across the United States and have provided medical care to more than 9,000 people in Honduras over the last 12 months. MEDEL provides preventative medical care, wellness check-ups, dental care, preventative dental care, surgical care, and physical therapy through local partnerships in Comayagua, Tegucigalpa, and through local MEDRETEs which are carried out on a weekly basis.