NEWS | Sept. 15, 2014

JTF-B MEDEL completes medical readiness exercise in El Salvador

By Capt. Steven Stubbs Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Joint Task Force-Bravo's Medical Element, in conjunction with the 1-228th Aviation Regiment, U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, the El Salvador Ministry of Health and El Salvador military, conducted a medical readiness training exercise (MEDRETE) in La Poza, Department of Usulután, El Salvador, September 8-11 where over 1,250 people received medical care.

MEDRETEs give the medical team an opportunity to exercise their medical and mission command capabilities as well as practice integrating with the host nation organizations in preparation for future humanitarian assistance or disaster relief efforts.

"These exercises allow us to practice our expeditionary skills such as providing humanitarian aid during any type of disaster," said U.S. Army Sgt Gary Aaron, a MEDEL emergency medical technician.  "It gets us out in the different communities allowing us to practice those skill sets and helps build relationships at each location we go to."

The multi-national team worked together to deliver preventative medicine, including classes on hygiene, preventative dental care, and nutrition. They also provided immunizations, dental care, wellness checkups, medications, and performed minor medical procedures for the people who live in La Poza where medical services are scarce.

"The joint work between not only the armed forces but also with the government is very important for Usulután's development," stated El Salvador Army Col. Carlos Rivera, 6th Infantry Brigade commander. "This medical brigade with doctors from El Salvador and JTF-Bravo provided men and women and most importantly children some relief to their aches. The children are the ones who need this the most."

"We provided general health care such as pre-natal vitamins, de-worming medication, instructions on proper hygiene as well as medications to help people deal with allergic reactions or the common cold," stated Aaron. "The medical team refers patients to their local doctors which will hopefully get them more advanced care that is needed such as surgeries or any post-medical care that we can't provide."

In order to prepare for these exercises, many tasks must be performed prior to deploying to the MEDRETE site.

"It takes months to plan and prepare for the MEDRETEs," stated U. S. Army 1st Lt. William Tramel, a registered nurse with MEDEL.  "MEDEL communicates with the U.S. Embassy, El Salvador Ministry of Health and the community involved to determine what types of care is needed and then we gather and prepare the medications and supplies to support the mission. We also ensure we have the personnel available who are up-to-date with their training to perform their duties."

"We've jointly worked for months in preparation (for) this event," said Rivera. "We have been able to carry out this activity precisely due to the good communication we have with U.S. Army South and the U.S. Embassy officials, which allows us to have a clear understanding and a firm support for this mission's development."

U.S. Army Capt. Joseph Pavelites, a MEDEL physician, played an instrumental role in possibly saving a 45 year-old La Poza woman's life who was suffering from multiple respiratory complications.

"She had pneumonia that hadn't been treated previously because the hospital didn't have the proper medication. She began to have an asthmatic attack along with the pneumonia which caused her to pass out due to a lack of oxygen flow into her lungs. We administered asthma medications to alleviate her shortness of breath and provided the medication needed to treat her illness. She was then transported to a local hospital where the doctors could properly treat the infection with the antibiotics."

The Medical Element and El Salvadoran medics and military worked side-by-side as a unified team to provide much needed care to the population of La Poza.

"We have previous experience in coordinating this type of mission with other institutions as well as with JTF-Bravo," said Rivera. "Being able to integrate the Salvadoran Health Ministry's support helps us to serve more people every time. The experience our officers and enlisted personnel gain from these joint missions is invaluable."

Joint Task Force-Bravo's MEDEL is composed of 64 Army personnel who have come together from across the United States and have provided medical care to more than 12,000 people over the last 12 months. MEDEL provides preventative medical care, wellness check-ups, dental care, preventative dental care, surgical care, and physical therapy through local partnerships in Comayagua, Tegucigalpa, and through local MEDRETEs which are carried out on a weekly basis.