NEWS | Oct. 12, 2007

JTF-Bravo Medical Element conducts training exercise, health clinic in El Salvador

By Staff Sgt. Austin M. May Joint Task Force-Bravo public affairs

A group of about 18 doctors and medics from the Joint Task Force-Bravo Medical Element traveled to El Salvador Sept. 27 for a Medical Readiness Training Exercise.

The team from Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, helped approximately 850 people with pharmaceutical needs, medical assessments and preventative medicine, informing those in attendance about proper bathing and hand-washing techniques, water contamination, children's vitamins and oral hygiene.

Air Force Capt. Tracie Swingle, the mission's officer in charge, said the trip had several purposes.

She explained they were there to meet the immediate healthcare needs of the locals and provide health care education, but also to show an American presence and allow the medical team the opportunity for crucial training.

The team set up their base of operations at a school in the village, where hundreds of Salvadorans were already waiting when they arrived. Greeted with handshakes, hugs and several rounds of applause, the medical element quickly set up a makeshift triage area, clinic and pharmacy.

For about three hours, the doctors, physician assistants and medics saw a seemingly never-ending line of patients, gaining experience Captain Swingle called priceless.

The captain, who is deployed to JTF-Bravo from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., said the team wouldn't have been able to see so many people in such a short amount of time if they hadn't integrated so quickly with the host nation.

"For most of us, this was our first MEDRETE," she said. "Everyone adapted very quickly, and worked together as a team from the very beginning."

For Army 2nd Lt. Miles Hamlett, the San Juan Opico trip was his third MEDRETE since arriving in Honduras in late July, and summarized his experience in one word: satisfying.
"We positively affected 800 lives in three hours," he said, smiling. "Never in my life have I imagined I'd be doing what I am now. It's one of those things that makes me really proud to be in the military."

Lieutenant Hamlett said most of what the team covered was very basic medical needs, such as heartburn and indigestion.

"They don't understand what a lot of that is," he explained.

Salvadorian 1st Lt. Jose Roberto Rivera, Artillery Officer, was working on the site as a translator. He said the people living in the area had been looking forward to the visit because most of them couldn't afford even a trip to the country's capital, San Salvador, let alone pay for a visit to a doctor.

"For them, this is a special day," he said, explaining how some people had been waiting in line for several hours before the SCAB team arrived. "They don't want to lose the opportunity to be seen here today."

The team ended up staying overnight unexpectedly when weather prevented their helicopter transports from picking them up. The Salvadorian army's Artillery Brigade provided food, lodging and security for them on a base a few miles from the clinic site.