Medics bring relief to Senegal

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chance C. Babin
  • Air Force Reserve Command
Airmen provided medical care to more than 4,400 people here as Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers formed Task Force 225 and conducted joint training during Exercise Shared Accord June 16 to 28 in Senegal. 

Fourteen Air Force Reserve Command medics teamed up with a battalion of Marine reservists and a handful of Sailors and Soldiers for the U. S. European Command exercise coordinated by U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe.

This year's joint exercise was held to improve U.S. and Senegal relations and to conduct joint training with the Senegalese forces on a tactical level while providing humanitarian assistance to the local population.

The team of medics was part of the humanitarian mission providing care to the people of the desert region of Linguere. The care included general medicine, optometry and dentistry.

As soon as they arrived, the medics saw a steady flow of patients for 10 consecutive days in the hot desert environment of Linguere, centrally located in northern Senegal..

"Our Air Force Reserve physicians provided quality medical care to more than 4,400 Senegalese, many of whom waited for days just to be seen by the American doctors," said Maj. Melissa Triche, a medical planner for the Air Force Reserve Command International Health Specialist program. "I'm very proud of the efforts that were put forth by the medics on this team. The care they provided significantly improved the overall health of the local population.

"The experience and expertise that our physicians brought with them saved the lives of several Senegalese during this (medical capability exercise)," she said. "To me, that spells out a successful mission for all involved."

For the members of the medical team, the mission was a great opportunity to touch the lives of people who in many cases have no other means available to improve their lives.

"It's been a positive experience," said Capt. Jessica Tse, an optometrist with the 349th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif. "It makes everyone reflect on their lives and be grateful for what we have and to be able to improve so many people's lives has been very rewarding. It definitely makes you want to do another mission like this."

For some medics this was their first time participating in a humanitarian mission.

"I've always wanted to do something like this," said Maj. (Dr.) Darin Brimhall, a physician with the 752nd Medical Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, Calif. "Going to regular drill gets dull, and I was looking for an assignment to use my skills to help people. This has rekindled my passion for what my role is in the Air Force."

For many of the patients what would be routine treatment back home has been neglected due to the lack of resources in the local population.

"The amount of pathology is tremendous. I'm amazed that the dental decay rate is so high, periodontal disease is rampant and the number of facial abysses," said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Scott Sayre, a dentist with the 445th Aeromedical Squadron, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. "We've seen some very unusual things that you only see in text books or learn about in school.

"We've seen it firsthand and we're their only help," he said. "If we don't do (the surgical procedure) there's no one else who will because they don't have the money. From that perspective, dental problems become life threatening."

Part of every successful mission stems from having a team that works well together, even when the environment and work conditions are challenging.

"We have a good team, very cohesive," said Maj. (Dr.) Brandon Isaacs, an individual mobilization augmentee flight surgeon assigned to Ellsworth AFB, S.D. "I think we are having more of an impact on the general population because in many cases we are doing life-altering procedures."

Major Isaacs performed several minor cosmetic procedures, such as removing lipomas and sebaceous cysts, which helps integrate these patients back into their society.

"The general public has such a negative impression on people who have simple benign defects that are cosmetically problematic," Major Isaacs said. "They become outcasts in society. By removing that benign lesion, they are then reaccepted in society as a normal human being."

One of those people was a man named Moussa Ba. Major Isaacs removed a lipoma from his forehead.

"I feel very good now and happy," Mr. Ba said through an interpreter, "because I was feeling very ashamed because people were looking at me. Now it's gone, and my life is good. It's changed my life."

When Mr. Ba returned days later to have his bandages changed, he told Major Isaacs that he told everyone in his village that he was a miracle worker.

In addition to reservists, an Air National Guard medical technician and an active-duty public health officer supplemented the Air Force contingent.

"Being in the medical career field is a great heart-warming experience for me, having the privilege to help the medically under-serviced population with their medical health care needs," said Senior Master Sgt. Cliff Archer, a medical technician with the Indiana Air National Guard's 181st Medical Group from Terre Haute. "It's been great to working with reservists. We've all blended well together, and that's what we train for, working in a joint environment."

While the MEDCAP was taking place in Linguere, the Marines trained in Dodji, about 15 miles away, where Capt. Paul Kim, a public health officer with the 86th Contingency Response Group from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, was responsible for sanitation and hygiene for the training site.

"It was a great experience where I was able to do what I was trained to do in an austere environment," Captain Kim said. "The Marines and the Navy corpsmen made it possible to keep the training site sanitary. Thanks to their efforts, we had no disease, non-battle injuries."

While there, Captain Kim tested water and ice to confirm in was nonpotable, thus used for hygiene use only. He also met with the mayor of Dodji to give him preventive medicine tips in preparation for mosquito season and donated permethrine and Deet to the training site commandant for his troops to use.

The Marines conducted joint training with the Senegalese military including live fire, small unit tactics and staff planning with their Senegalese military counterparts. The Navy provided real-world medical support to the entire U.S. contingent. The Sailors were based out of the 4th Medical Battalion from New York.

The Army team from the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion from New Jersey performed civil affairs projects including veterinarian care for the local population livestock and construction projects in and around Linguere to help improve people's lives.

"The exercise is an overwhelming success," said Lt. Col. Michael Froeder, inspection instructor and executive officer for the 2nd Battalion 25th Marines, Garden City, N.Y. "The Senegalese and Marine Corps units integrated seamlessly when they were conducting training. The integration of the other services has been outstanding. Each service's unique capabilities have complemented each other well. The MEDCAP and VETCAP efforts have exceeded all of our battalion commander's expectations.

"Overall as a task force with personnel and units from all over the country, we've conducted an exercise in an arduous environment in a safe manner while providing a great deal of humanitarian assistance to those in need."

(Courtesy Air Force Reserve Command News Service)

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