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MEDEL conducts mission in El Salvador

By Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs | Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs | Nov. 14, 2007

CORINTO, El Salvador — The Medical Element from Joint Task Force-Bravo conducted a medical readiness training exercise here Nov. 5-6 and provided medical care for 2,690 El Salvadorans.

The team of 17 medical personnel departed Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, aboard two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Upon arrival, they were greeted by the El Salvadoran Ministry of Health and members of the Destacamento Militar Número Cuatro (Military Detachment Number Four) who provided crowd control and security for the MEDRETE.

The mission, which was located at the Centro Escolar Dr. Arturo Romero school, wasn't "typical" by any means, according to those in attendance. Nurses and doctors examined patients in the classrooms, while the preventive medicine briefings took place on the basketball court.

At one point, a band of street musicians began to entertain the crowd waiting for treatment, and clowns set up piñatas for the kids. Adding to the ambience, a local man wheeled his ice-cream cart around.

"It felt more like we were in the middle of a market than in a medical clinic," said Air Force 1st Lt. Vanessa Johnson, chief of Medical Logistics, who is deployed to Soto Cano from the 49th Medical Support Squadron, Holloman AFB, N.M.

"This was my first MEDRETE experience," she said, adding "I expected a lot of chaos and confusion. The one thing I didn't expect was the feeling of real satisfaction as we drove away from the site. Maybe we had an impact on just one person's life, and that's enough reason to feel good about a day's work."

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rachel Bush, the noncommissioned officer in charge of diagnostic imaging at Soto Cano, attended the MEDRETE to help where needed, since there was not mobile X-ray equipment available. However, she said this was a great opportunity to see how her fellow Airmen and Soldiers perform their medical duties in field conditions.

"I helped the pharmacy tech hand out medications," she said. "It was a lot more than just handing out pills. I have a lot of respect now for what those guys do."

Sergeant Bush said the local population was similar to villages near the base in Honduras, although Corinto seemed to be a larger city.

"The area we were in was a large town, but the people there were still in need," she said. "A lot of children had various colds, fevers, and sore throats. The adults mostly had allergies and congestion - at least from the pharmacy aspect. It seemed to be (mostly) minor aches, pains, rashes and things like that."

Lieutenant Johnson said the El Salvadoran people all seemed extremely appreciative for the care they were receiving.

"In the midst of running from station to station to make sure everyone had everything they needed, I got a lot of smiles from the folks in line, several hand-shakes," she said. " I don't know how many times I heard 'gracias.'"

In addition to the personal satisfaction the team gained during this mission, MEDEL was praised by Army Col. Felix Santiago-Torres, military group commander for U.S. forces in El Salvador.

"JTF-B's support enables us to integrate efforts from the Ministries of Health and Defense," he said in an e-mail to the JTF-Bravo commander. "It truly has made a difference in communities with much need for medical care and certainly enhanced the image of our nation."

United States military personnel from MEDEL have been conducting medical readiness training exercises in Central America since Oct. 1, 1993. Since that time, they have executed more than 225 missions and treated more than 271,000 medical patients and 57,500 dental patients.

There are several mission objectives to MEDRETES, to include providing U.S. military personnel training in delivery of 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. These exercises bring together key members of the U.S. and foreign militaries, U.S. Embassy Country Teams, U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's), Host Nation (HN) government agencies and indigenous civilian organizations.