NEWS | Nov. 9, 2007

American servicemembers in Dominican Republic prepare for medical mission

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

United States military members deployed to the Dominican Republic to assist the island nation recover from Tropical Storm Noel are gearing up for a new, more focused mission.

A team of 13 servicemembers from Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element, based at Soto Cano Air base, Honduras, arrived the evening of Nov. 8 to provide medical care to those affected by the storm.

The first team of 21 Airmen and Soldiers to arrive in the Dominican Republic were outfitted to perform primarily search and rescue missions and ferry food and supplies to areas hit by Noel. The group, which arrived in Hispaniola Nov. 5, brought two Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters aboard a C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft.

"When we got here, the country had already been stabilized in terms of search and rescue efforts," said Army Capt. Matthew Considine, the officer in charge of the element from JTF-Bravo. "By the time we got here, SAR wasn't an issue. The Coast Guard did a great job wrapping that up, but there are still people who are sick or injured."

Thus the primary focus of the team from Soto Cano has been switched from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to a Medical Readiness and Training Exercise.

MEDRETEs, as they are commonly called, are real-world medical missions designed to assist people in countries where health needs are not adequately met at no cost to the patients. JTF-Bravo is expected to bring approximately $20,000 worth of medicine and other supplies to the island, Captain Considine said.

The original team sent to the Dominican Republic included two medics to provide assistance if necessary to the SAR teams and aircrews. During the initial arrival and setup of the first element, they did what they could to help get helicopters ready to fly and treat small abrasions and cuts. Now they are excited to be trained in what will become the team's primary focus.

"At first we [medics] were only here in case the SAR teams needed us," Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Daly, one of the medics who deployed with the original team, said. "Now we're the mission."

Typical JTF-Bravo MEDRETE missions involve several levels of patient care, according to Sergeant Daly. "It's basically a makeshift clinic," he said. "There's typically a pharmacy, a few physicians and a preventative medicine team."

Sergeant Daly and his medical technician counterpart, Air Force Staff Sgt. David Pagani, deployed with only two first aid kits to treat basic injuries. Sergeant Pagani said he expects the incoming team, which will include physicians and nurses, to be able to perform minor surgeries and provide medical counseling where needed.

"Without having actually been out into the affected areas yet, there's no way to know what kind of care those people need," he said. "No matter the situation, however, our team has the best training available and can handle whatever comes our way."

The JTF-Bravo Medical Element performs the humanitarian missions throughout Central America, and has recently sent teams to El Salvador, Belize and Nicaragua.

Captain Considine said there is no date designated yet for the team to leave the Dominican Republic, but said they will stay until the job is done.

"However long it takes, that's how long we'll be here."