NEWS | May 12, 2008

Joint Task Force-Bravo deploys to El Salvador, performs humanitarian mission with different agencies

By Tech. Sgt. William Farrow

United States servicemembers from Joint Task Force-Bravo deployed to El Salvador for a regional disaster exercise performed expeditionary medical care during a two-day long emergency medical readiness training exercise May 7-8. 

Designated Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias 2008, the U.S. Southern Command and Salvadoran Ministry of Defense-sponsored exercise runs May 5-15 and brings together experts in all aspects of disaster planning and operations. 

The 18-person team made up of Soldiers and Airmen stationed at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, spent the two days operating a makeshift clinic at an elementary school, triaging more than 1,600 local people. 

The various sections of the clinic included preventative medicine, nurse triage, optometry, dentistry, a pharmacy and health-care providers, said Air Force Capt. Jennifer Martinez, officer in charge of operations at JTF-Bravo's Medical Element. 

The MEDRETE was a culmination of efforts by multiple military, governmental, public and private agencies. Partnering together in the exercise were JTF-Bravo's MEDEL, Salvadoran Ministry of Health, Salvadoran army and navy personnel and the Virginia Hospital Center Medical Brigade, a U.S. civilian medical organization that sponsors both annual humanitarian healthcare missions trips and sustainable healthcare intervention models in the region. 

According to local officials, several families had hiked for more than 10 miles to reach the MEDRETE site. Air Force Major Paul Miller, registered nurse with JTF-Bravo MEDEL, said the most common ailments treated by the team were upper-respiratory infections, muscular aches and pains, dermatological issues and diarrhea. 

A large number of people also were treated for parasitic infections. During the first-day of the MEDRETE, local people made it known that a teen girl in a nearby village had gone into labor and ambulance service wasn't available. The people requested assistance finding transportation to the hospital for her and MEDRETE officials loaned a vehicle and driver to pick up the girl and take her to the hospital. The baby was born 15 minutes after arrival there. 

"Although we weren't called upon to help-out medically, it's a great example of our presence helping others in need, Captain Martinez said. "Because the locals knew we were here and that we could come up with a solution--they came to us a need we responded; we were in the right spot at the right time." 

A doctor from JTF-Bravo said he contemplated tending to the pregnancy, but didn't feel comfortable making a house call. "Because of this patient's young age, a C-section is often necessary and it was best for her to go to a hospital," Dr. Miguel Coello, MEDEL liaison officer. 

However, he said on the second day he felt compelled to break away and make a house call for a patient needing urgent attention. Doctor Coello visited the home of a 43 year-old woman with a debilitating leg ulcer. 

"Because of her specific conditions, she wasn't able to get to the MEDRETE, so I took the MEDRETE to her," Doctor Coello said. "If she hadn't been treated, she may have lost her leg." 

Although regional MEDRETEs are a staple for MEDEL, Col. (Dr.) Mike Sigmon, MEDEL commander, said participating in regional disaster exercises improve military and civilian interaction strategically. Colonel Sigmon said regional disaster relief exercises improve disaster relief capabilities in the region and improve and promote interoperability among the regional and inter-regional organizations conducting humanitarian response and disaster assistance. 

"This MEDRETE is truly a cooperative effort with multi-national military and civilian agencies working side-by-side and it truly shows the ability of the Americas to help each other when needs arise," he said.