NEWS | March 8, 2013

U.S., Panama exercise interoperability, deliver medical assistance

By Capt Rebecca Heyse Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

A multilateral team of U.S., Honduran and Panamanian military members and civilians joined forces to exercise Joint Task Force-Bravo's ability to conduct expeditionary medical operations and provide medical care for more than 1,200 patients in two villages Feb. 28-March 1, during the first Medical Readiness Training Exercise in the Darien region of Panama.

The MEDRETE offered medical assistance in general medicine and dentistry while providing the Panama Ministry of Health the opportunity to dispense vaccinations in accordance with their preventative vaccination program which was several months overdue because of limited access to the villages.

"Having easy access to Uala and Marraganti [the two villages] was critical," said Dr. Carmela Jackman, the lead coordinator for the MEDRETE from the Panama Ministry of Health. "Also, being able to provide the preventative dental fluoride treatments to the children will pay dividends for their long-term dental health."

Joint Task Force-Bravo's 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment helicopters were the primary modes of transportation for the MEDRETE team. The flexibility of the aircraft proved vital for landing on the banks of the Chucunaque River in the thick Panamanian jungle.
"The Department of Defense is the primary mechanism we [the U.S.] have in reaching out to the Darien," said U.S. Ambassador to Panama Jonathan Farrar during a visit to the village of Uala. "The Embassy is incredibly thankful that JTF-Bravo was able to facilitate this exercise, partnering with our Panamanian government counterparts."

The Panama military, Servicio Nacional de Fronteras, were vital to providing additional security at the MEDRETE sites. The U.S. and SENAFRONT have a long history training together, which was evident when the JTF-Bravo security forces personnel arrived on site.
"Having shared training has many benefits," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Willard Garmoe, JTF-Bravo's security forces lead for the MEDRETE. "The planning highlighted our similarities and provided an easier route for joining forces and creating a unified security plan at both locations."

MEDRETEs are designed to exercise medical operations in austere environments and are great opportunities for JTF-Bravo to build and sustain relationships with other governments and militaries in the Central American region. These relationships are vital for preserving stability and security throughout the region.

Since 1993, MEDRETEs have been the cornerstone of Joint Task Force-Bravo's engagement efforts to partner with host nation governments throughout the Central American region to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and increase interoperability with military and civilian professionals.