NEWS | June 12, 2012

JTF-Bravo brings medical care to El Salvador

By 1st Lt. Christopher Diaz Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Members of Joint Task Force-Bravo recently treated 776 patients in a two-day joint Medical Readiness Training Exercise in partner with the El Salvadoran Ministry of Health and military.

In the municipalities of El Castaño and Rancho San Marcos, El Salvador, local patients received preventative medicine briefings, health screenings, dental care, immunizations and prescription medicine.

Some service members at JTF-Bravo are only afforded one chance be a part of a MEDRETE, due to number of staff that can participate each time. U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Crystal Davis, Medical Element preventative medicine specialist, looks back on her opportunity to serve patients in El Salvador.

"It was just incredible and really eye-opening," she said. "I've never done anything like it in my entire career - at times it was difficult, but at the end of the day it was all worth it."

In addition to the work environment, other challenges tested the team's effort to successfully carry out the exercise. U.S. Army Maj. Teague Ruffo, Army Forces Battalion operations officer and MEDRETE mission commander, says that planning and coordination was crucial.

"For every MEDRETE, we do a pre-deployment site survey and hold joint planning group meetings," said Ruffo. "During this exercise, weather constrained us at times and we faced logistical issues, but everyone working together made everything successful."
As he approaches the end of his assignment at JTF-Bravo, Ruffo reflects on this particular MEDRETE and appreciates the support from each unit.

"It was really a team effort in between ARFOR, MEDEL and 1-228 [Aviation Regiment]," said Ruffo. "This is probably the best group that I've worked with."

With fifteen years of MEDRETE experience, Dr. Guillermo Saenz, general practitioner and MEDEL liaison officer, says the team's efforts were immediately recognized by host-nation partners.

"Without even asking, I got feedback from the ministry of health thanking us very much," said Saenz. "Everyone was so grateful -- they liked the way we worked and how we were organized."

According to the doctor, these exercises are sometimes the only experience patients throughout Central America have with U.S. service members. Through his time in working with JTF-Bravo, he sees a great reputation that has been built through MEDRETE's.

"Everywhere we go, we are well-respected and very much appreciated," said Saenz. "People know how JTF-Bravo works and how respectful we are."

There are several mission objectives to MEDRETES, to include providing U.S. military personnel training in delivering medical care in austere conditions, promoting diplomatic relations between the U.S. and host nations in Central America, and providing humanitarian and civic assistance via a long-term proactive program.