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News | March 2, 2015

Mission Success: JTF-Bravo teams up with Guatemalan health providers

By Tech. Sgt. Heather Redman Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Members of Joint Task Force-Bravo, Guatemalan Ministry of Health, and members of the Guatemalan military joined forces for a Medical Readiness Training Exercise in La Blanca, Guatemala, Feb. 25-26.

"I enjoy working with the U.S. government," said Dr. August Navarro, a Guatemalan health care provider. "Their professionalism is outstanding and I'm really pleased that they are here to help us provide aid to this community."

One of the main objects for the MEDRETEs is to help promote diplomatic relations between the U.S. and host nations in Central America while supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in order to promote stability and prosperity throughout the region.

"I think this community has a lot of faith in the U.S. and they were very excited to be seen by all the medical providers and staff that we have here," said U.S. Army Col. Karen Rutherford, Joint Task Force Bravo Medical Element health care provider. "Holding this MEDRETE in La Blanca helps strengthen their resolve that we are here to help them and to work collaboratively with their government."

Some of the most common cases seen by the medical professionals included respiratory, gastrointestinal, dermatological issues and tropical diseases.

"Yesterday we had a two-year-old that was in really bad condition," said Rutherford.  "She had a high temperature and wasn't keeping anything down, we suspect she had pneumonia.  With collaboration with the ministry of health we were able to get her the referrals she needed to be seen in the hospital."

During the two-day exercise the JTF-Bravo team and preventative medicine specialists from the Guatemalan Ministry of Health educated, screened and treated over 1,200 patients.

"It's awesome to see the U.S. and the Guatemalan government work together for a common goal especially here in La Blanca, which is such a distant community," said U.S. Army Col. Carlos Figueroa, U.S. Embassy Guatemala Military Group Commander.  "It's hard for the Guatemalan agencies to reach out to this community on a regular basis."

The MEDRETE sites are chosen based on the community's needs. 

"La Blanca was selected as the site for this MEDRETE because this community has recently been significantly impacted by several natural disasters," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jeffery Lopez, U.S. Embassy Guatemala Security Cooperation Army Section Chief.

"One of the reasons why this area was chosen was because in the last few years there have been several earthquakes that have affected the area and the Guatemalan Ministry of Health designated it as an area that was in need of medical attention," said U.S. Army Capt. Maria Forstner, Medical Element officer in charge of the mobile surgical team.

These exercises bring together key members of the U.S. and foreign militaries, U.S. Embassy Country Teams, Non-Governmental Organizations, Host Nation government agencies and local civilian organizations.

"This is a great good will effort, not just from the U.S.  It is a collaborative effort between the U.S. military, the Guatemalan government, and USAID," said Figueroa. "So it's a whole government approach to providing health care to this area. This is the sixth MEDRETE that I've been on and to have JTF-Bravo come into town is a benefit to this community that cannot be measured."

"This MEDRETE is a very impressionable event," said Jose Medina, Vice Mayor of La Blanca. "I cannot thank you enough for the level of help that you are providing to this community.  There are many communities around here that have absolutely no assistance when it comes to health care.  So a lot of these communities are taking advantage of the MEDRETE that is going on here, because if they don't they will have to travel about 45-minutes to the nearest hospital."

In addition to MEDRETES Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element also conducts numerous outreach programs to build relationships within our partner nation medical community.  Some of these efforts include surgical skill training for the Mobile Surgical Team with partner nation hospitals as well as subject matter expert exchanges in Ministry of Health facilities in the medical disciplines of Physical Therapy and Community Health allowing our providers to teach as well as learn from our counterparts.