SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras —
Medical Readiness Training Exercises, Military Partnership Engagements and Mobile Surgical Team deployments have been the backbone of Joint Task Force-Bravo’s humanitarian mission in Central America for the past 23 years and have touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, built partner nation capacity and fostered goodwill towards the U.S. in the region. These missions are almost completely run and supported by the U.S. Army … almost.
Behind these missions conducted by Army medical personnel using Army helicopters for transportation and security provided by Army military police, there are two Airmen who bring more than just token “joint-ness” to these important operations.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Amber El-Amin, JTF-Bravo operations medical planner, and Senior Airman Synethia Robinson, JTF-Bravo medical operations noncommissioned-officer-in-charge, play a vital role in the Joint Operations Planning Process - a process that includes building concepts of operation; synchronizing and de-conflicting all logistics and support elements; scheduling and leading meetings and rehearsal of concept drills; ensuring all mission personnel, to include Honduran employees, possess all appropriate passport and country clearances; and that all personnel and equipment are manifested and ready for transport on the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment helicopters.
The job these two Airmen do here compared with what they did at their home stations is as different as clinics and hospitals are from their current work location - a secure facility where two dozen Soldiers from the Joint Operations directorate plan and monitor JTF-Bravo’s missions.
“This job is nothing like we do back home,” said El-Amin, who is deployed here from the 60th Medical Support Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. “My specialty match is medical logistics, and I've spent majority of my time in that field. Here though, I'm really a project manager and there are a lot of moving pieces and units to synchronize for a mission.”
That, she says, is where Robinson comes in, who is a Health Services Management specialist deployed here from the 23rd MDSS at Moody AFB, Ga.
“It's very easy to drop a ball, thus, Senior Airman Robinson and I have to make sure that we're always on top of it,” El-Amin continued. “She's been doing a great job here, and I couldn't do any of this without her.”
Joint environments are by no means new or unique, but they can present distinct challenges to those experiencing them for the first time.
“I volunteered to come and be a part of the mission here at JTF-B,” said Robinson. “This is my first deployment, and so far I have been amazed at how much I have learned and adapted to working with our sister services.”
In addition to MEDRETEs, El-Amin and Robinson also plan for JTF-Bravo involvement in Honduran-led MPEs, which are very similar to a MEDRETE, but are conducted by the host nation. JTF-Bravo MEDEL surgeons conduct MST deployments throughout the region as well, which also require planning and support from the two-person Air Force team.
“We have to conduct a reconnaissance for each mission, which means we’re essentially planning two major events per mission,” said El-Amin. “So really, we’re planning six separate missions every month with their own transportation, manifests, security, funding and everything else that makes a mission successful.”
The duo spends approximately 180-200 hours over 12 weeks preparing for each MEDRETE, MPE and MST, and sometimes more if the mission is outside Honduras. While the majority of past missions have been in Honduras, JTF-Bravo is working with U.S. Embassy country teams and ministries of health in the other Central American nations to conduct MEDRETEs within their borders.
El-Amin and Robinson were critical to the planning and execution of recent MEDRETEs in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras. However, they rarely get to see firsthand the impact of what they do.
“We’re behind the scenes and generally don’t go on the missions,” commented El-Amin. “I did get to go visit one MEDRETE when I first arrived. I could see the excitement of the people as the helicopters came in to land, and I got to walk through the entire process. It was really amazing to see what our team does.”
Robinson has yet to accompany her Army teammates on a mission, but plans to soon. In the meantime she said she’ll continue to bid the teams farewell when they depart Soto Cano AB to conduct a mission she and El-Amin planned from start to finish.
“The most rewarding part of my job is when we get to see everyone off when they depart for their mission,” said Robinson. “That’s when we get to see the fruit of our labor.”
El-Amin echoed her partner’s sentiment, and added, “I feel great satisfaction when I see the photos and news stories of all the people standing in lines and receiving treatment and when we read the [situation reports] and see the final numbers of people treated and medicine handed out.”
There have been more than 300 MEDRETEs conducted and JTF-Bravo MEDEL personnel have treated more than 326,000 medical patients and 69,670 dental patients since Oct. 1993. An average operation allows more than 1,000 people living in remote, austere environments to receive medical, dental and preventive medical care.
“It's been busy and we've had a steep learning curve, but it's rewarding,” concluded El-Amin. “There’s a lot that goes into these mission, but each month we provide humanitarian assistance to thousands of people. It’s an honor to play such an important part in the JTF-Bravo mission.”