NEWS | Nov. 14, 2007

Flexibility, teamwork key to MEDEL rapid deployment ability

By Staff Sgt. Austin M. May Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

A team of medical personnel from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, set up a makeshift clinic in a school here to provide medical relief to the local population Nov. 13.

The mission was the last of seven Expeditionary Medical Liaison Team visits to villages across the Dominican Republic following a United States Army South-led relief effort for regions affected by Tropical Storm Noel.

Air Force Capt. Tracie Swingle, the officer in charge of the EMLT, said the team saw more than 2,000 patients in four days.

"We brought about 2,100 pounds of medication," she said. "That's enough for five days of patient care."

The captain said the response to the team from JTF-Bravo's Medical Element has been overwhelmingly positive.

"These people aren't used to seeing the United States military in their towns," she explained. "Some of them aren't quite sure at first why we're here, but once they figure it out they welcome us with smiles and handshakes."

Air Force Staff Sgt. Melinda Atencio deployed to JTF-Bravo from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., in September. The 28-year-old x-ray technician, previously a member of the Air Force Reserves, had been on Medical Readiness and Training Exercise (MEDRETE) missions before, but said this was the first mission she'd been on outside Honduras since arriving at Soto Cano. She said she was impressed by the team's rapid response to their tasking.

"The way this team worked together to get ready in such a short amount of time was outstanding," she said. "Usually, MEDRETEs take months of preparation to be successful. From the time we were notified we were leaving, we were able to get five days worth of medicine ready to deploy in less than 12 hours."

Sergeant Atencio attributes the team's successful short-notice deployment to MEDEL's outstanding ability to work as a team.

"The whole clinic, not just those deploying, worked very hard and late to get us ready for this trip," she explained. "When it got close to the time we were supposed to leave, those of us coming here were cut loose to get rest and the remainder of the unit kept working to ensure we were ready to leave on time."

Army Col. (Dr.) Michael Sigmon, JTF-Bravo MEDEL commander, said the reason the medical element was able to deploy so quickly was largely due to two factors.

"Part of it is the training we do," he explained. "We've been doing so many MEDRETEs, about one a month, that the basic set up is like second nature to us.

"This is why we do MEDRETEs," he added.

The other factor enabling MEDEL's quick-deployment capability, the colonel said, is the incredible teamwork the Soldiers, Airmen and Hondurans display on a daily basis.

"Some of these people have only been part of JTF-Bravo for two months, and the last time we deployed for a real-world humanitarian aid mission was three months ago," he said. "In only two months these professionals have gotten themselves ready to deploy at a moment's notice. That's really gratifying."

Colonel Sigmon added the MEDEL team responsible for the rapid deployment to the Dominican Republic is not limited to the 13 servicemembers who landed in the island nation Nov. 9.

"Everyone back at Soto Cano helped," he explained. "Not just the people going; everyone. And they were all excitedly enthusiastic and equally prepared to lend their hands in helping the people of this country."

The teamwork didn't end when the 13 troops left Soto Cano. Colonel Sigmon said the group was able to set up entire clinics in about an hour and begin receiving patients, as many as 100 per hour.

The MEDEL commander said flexibility was key to the overall success of the team's mission.

"They did things here they've never done before," he said. "This was the first time we've ever split a team to cover two areas several miles apart at the same time."

Colonel Sigmon said the entire deployment might not have gone as well as it did without the tremendous support of the 1st Battalion-228th Aviation Regiment and the communications technicians supporting the EML team.

The colonel added the job done by the entire deployed contingent represents the very nature of a joint mission.

"I'm very satisfied with how this all went," he said.