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MEDEL provides care in Cuesta de la Virgen

By Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs | Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs | Oct. 22, 2007

CUESTA DE LA VIRGEN, Honduras — Soldiers and Airmen from the Joint Task Force-Bravo Medical Element provided care here Oct. 19-20, with aid ranging from preventative medicine to dental procedures for seven nearby villages.

This purpose of this Medical Readiness Training Mission, or MEDRETE, was to provide pharmacy supplies, preventive medicine education and general medical and dental care to the local Honduran population. The military team also stressed the importance of working together with the Honduran Ministry of Health, who provided gynecology and veterinary services during the mission.

The group traveled by military convoy to the Cuesta de la Virgen school, testing their convoy operations in contrast to previous MEDRETEs involving helicopter airlift.

"It usually takes about 30 minutes to get a helicopter and crew spun up, but we were able to drive to this mission in about 20 minutes," said Air Force Maj. Larry Taylor, a pharmacist deployed to Soto Cano and the officer in charge for this mission.

This was a very rewarding experience, Major Tayor said, adding "it's nice to be doing the humanitarian mission ... helping the needy people who appreciate the medical services."

Overall, this MEDRETE educated 785 Hondurans on preventive medicine issues such as hand washing, food preparation and personal hygiene. Of those 785, doctors examined 352 patients and the dentist treated 139 patients.

Honduran Dr. Wilmer Amador, who works as a liaison for MEDEL, said he is very grateful to be in a unique position to help his countrymen.

"This is a medical training mission," he said. "That's good, but to be honest the benefit is on a personal level and you can actually see the 'real' Honduras. Honduras is the third poorest country in this continent, and the average person lives on about $763 per person, per year."

Doctor Amador, who has been involved with planning MEDRETEs since the early 1990s, said at first he wasn't sure if these missions were making a difference until he met a lady who had walked more than three hours just to get lotion for her baby's skin rash.

"For those types of patients, we really are making a difference," he said. "It's the appeal that MEDRETEs have - they really have a 'bang for the buck,' like they say in English."

The most "bang," according to the doctor, is from the preventive medicine portion of the briefing. The "appeal" brings out more patients because it is the Americans providing the majority of the care. "We try to focus on the things that are affecting our people most, which is why we set up a preventive medicine station first," he said.

For the military members within MEDEL, this mission forced them to improvise with what they had and think outside of the box while providing care.
"This gives us rural medical experience, (since) we don't have the luxury of labs and x-rays," said Air Force Capt. Michelle Sredinski, a nurse deployed to Honduras from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. "I think it's great (because) we're able to provide a lot of the medical care that's necessary for the people in these remote areas, and we get to see how the people live and what they go through."

The commander of the Medical Element, Army Col. (Dr.) Michael Sigmon, said the mission ran "extremely well."
"We met all our training goals, gained valuable experience in Joint-Honduran operations, and provided excellent medical services to the local population," he wrote in his after-action report for the JTF-Bravo commander.

United States military personnel assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo have been conducting medical readiness training exercises in Honduras since October 1994.