COMAYAGUA, Honduras –
The Medical Element is one of Joint Task Force-Bravo’s major supporting commands with the most visibility. The unit actively participates in many large medical readiness training exercises in Central America; supporting local ministries of health and providing care for thousands of people in under-served remote areas throughout the year.
Though these are invaluable missions to both the unit and the host nations, nothing can compare to going door to door and impacting the community you live in directly.
This is what U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rhonda Dyer, a community health nurse with the 94th Combat Support Hospital, assigned to JTF-Bravo’s MEDEL, does weekly in the neighboring areas of Soto Cano Air Base.
“The mission changes from week to week,” said Lt. Col. Dyer. “One week I could be vaccinating people for flu or hepatitis, or giving out immunizations, and the next week I could be educating on pilas and making sure that those pilas are clean to try and decrease the mosquito population.”
Pilas are large containers of still water found in most homes throughout Honduras, which if left untreated can easily create an environment for vectors that cause viruses such as dengue, chikungunya and zika; very common and preventable illnesses severely affecting tropical areas of Central America. When it comes to this, Dyer says that it’s all about education and it’s all about treatment.
This weekly joint exercise involves the local ministry of health and enhances partnerships with the host nation, preparing both sides to respond to a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief situation by providing hands on, one-on-one interaction in a real life environment.
Lt. Col. Dyer has had the opportunity to develop a good working relationship with two of the local nurses who assist and work side by side with her when visiting the local population.
“Whenever I am working with either Doris or Merly I know it’s gonna be a great day,” she said while laughing; sharing that they are very patient when she has to weigh the children to provide the right dosage of antiparasitic medication.
“My mission takes a little bit longer. They are doing their mission but they don’t mind waiting on me to take care of the issues that I can take care of,” said Dyer. “It’s very much a symbiotic relationship. Once I know I’m working with either one of them I know that my backpack is going to be empty.”
On one of her recent community health missions, Dyer visited 40 homes, impacting a total of 180 citizens of Comayagua by providing influenza and hepatitis A vaccines, and also provided vitamin A to 42 adults, deworming medication for 138 people, and dispensed adult and prenatal vitamins to 61 citizens in the Cabañas, Inva, and Villas del Rio areas of Comayagua.
“The word gets around and once we come into a barrio we get inundated. My goal every week is for my back pack full of meds to be empty,” said Dyer.
This is the second tour on Soto Cano for Lt. Col Dyer and anyone who has seen her in action, whether it is on a MEDRETE or on her weekly community support missions, can say that she performs her job with great diligence and care for her patients, but overall with a great amount of joy and always with a smile.
“One of the biggest things that I do, and the most gratifying, is dispensing the medications. We go door to door, depending on what the mission is,” Dyer aid. “That to me is very gratifying; to be able to make that kind of impact on someone’s life.”