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AF medics enhance skills, build relationships in Dominican Republic

(l-r) Master Sgt. Shawn Elmandorf, orthopedic technician, Lt. Col Evan Jones, orthopedic doctor and Capt. Michael Hawkinson, orthopedic resident, perform a bi-lateral carpal tunnel release surgery June 8, at Rio San Juan hospital, Dominican Republic, during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise or MEDRETE as part of NEW HORIZONS 2016.  The MEDRETE is an exercise where U.S. military doctors and technicians partnered with medical professionals from the Dominican Republic, and practiced their craft in an expeditionary environment. Elmandorf and Hawkinson are deployed from the 59th Medical Wing, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chenzira Mallory/released)

Master Sgt. Shawn Elmandorf, left, an orthopedic technician; Lt. Col. Evan Jones, an orthopedic doctor; and Capt. Michael Hawkinson, an orthopedic resident, perform a bilateral carpal tunnel release surgery June 8, 2016, at Rio San Juan hospital, Dominican Republic, during medical readiness training as part of exercise New Horizons 2016. The training had U.S. military doctors and technicians partner with Dominican Republic medical professionals as they practiced their craft in an expeditionary environment. Elmandorf and Hawkinson are deployed from the 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Chenzira)

(l-r) Staff Sgt. Isela Gonzalez, 506th Air Expeditionary Group chaplain assistant, translates to Alberto Rosario for Maj. Peter Rhee, 506th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron hand surgeon, during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise or MEDRETE as part of NEW HORIZONS 2016. In the span of two-weeks, the orthopedic medical team has treated more than 420 patients and provided 26 specialized orthopedic surgeries. Rhee is deployed from the 59th Medical Wing, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chenzira Mallory/released)

Staff Sgt. Isela Gonzalez, left, a 506th Air Expeditionary Group chaplain assistant, translates to a patient for Maj. Peter Rhee, a 506th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron hand surgeon, during medical readiness training as part of exercise New Horizons 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Chenzira Mallory)

The tenth and final Medical Readiness Training Exercise or MEDRETE rotation provided care to more than 420 patients and performed 26 specialized orthopedic surgical procedures at the Rio San Juan hospital in the Dominican Republic.  The team comprised of medical professionals and residents from the 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chenzira Mallory/released)

The 10th and final medical readiness training exercise rotation provided care to more than 420 patients and performed 26 specialized orthopedic surgical procedures at the Rio San Juan hospital in the Dominican Republic. The team was comprised of medical professionals and residents from the 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Chenzira Mallory)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Airmen from the 59th Medical Wing are improving their clinical skills and building international relationships during a U.S. Southern Command sponsored readiness training exercise in the Dominican Republic.

New Horizons 2016, a three-month exercise that kicked off in April, brings together U.S. military civil engineers and medical professionals who conduct readiness training exercises by delivering health care services to local communities. Civil engineers are building four clinics and one school during the exercise.

The exercise is also enhancing the medical readiness of the 59th MDW, said Col. Glenn Yap, the wing’s vice commander and medical mission commander.

“It is very exciting and it’s been a great experience. Our warrior medics are treating a large number of patients, including many who would normally not have access to medical care,” Yap said.

Thirty medics from the wing are in the Dominican Republic to support the command cell and ambulance crew, and they are leading four of the 10 rotational medical/surgical teams who train in country for two-week periods. The 10 rotational teams are comprised of between 15-42 medical and dental professionals from other Air Force, Army and Canadian medical facilities, both active duty and reserve.

Specialties include: general medicine, preventative dental, general surgical, infectious disease, public health, urology, gynecology, ophthalmology, veterinary, and ear, nose and throat, Yap said.

“(The exercise) gives our medical teams a chance to practice their clinical skills in a different environment. This helps them sharpen their skills in preparation for worldwide deployments,” Yap explained.

The wing is also participating in a medical exchange, connecting subject matter experts from each country in pediatric nutrition and public health.

“We all benefited from each other’s unique insight,” said Maj. James Townley, a Joint Warfighter Refractive Surgery Center cornea/external disease and refractive surgeon.

“Some techniques we use in the U.S. are incompatible with the severity of the disease processes we find overseas, and the physicians from the Dominican Republic have more experience dealing with those advanced disease processes,” he continued. “They are also (accustomed) with working with fewer resources than we were.”

Working with colleagues across many different medical specialties and bringing together military members from around the U.S. allowed the teams to perform a common goal: good medicine in an unfamiliar location, he added.

“I learned the importance of good logistics and fostering a close working relationship with the host nation. There were many times it was necessary to work intimately with the host nation's government and physicians to ensure our essential supplies arrived in time for us to perform our mission,” Townley said. “Without everyone's combined efforts, the mission would have been a failure.”

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