DANGRIGA, Belize, May. 22, 2017 – A Blackhawk helicopter thundered down the Caribbean coastline breaking the early morning silence of Sovereign Day, May 22, 2017, drawing a cheerful crowd of people from the nearby town. Alerted by the helicopter, the locals came by car, bicycle, or on foot, to visit a sprawl of Army-green tents that had popped up near the landing site, seemingly overnight. The tents are marked with banners emblazoned with the emblem of the Red Cross and the circular insignia of Beyond the Horizon 2017.
The arrival of the helicopter and the raising of the tents mark the beginning of an eleven-day free medical event for the people of Dangriga.
BTH 2017 is a U.S. Army South partnership exercise with the Belize Defense Force and the Ministries of Defense, Health and Education. The exercise consists of five construction projects and three health care events in communities across Belize.
“What we’re doing is providing free healthcare for all the Belizean people,” said Cpt. Mark Bennett from Utah Medical Command. “We have optometry, dental, OB/GYN, family practice, internal medicine and pediatrics.”
These services are provided as part of a medical readiness and training exercise, the third and final one of it’s kind to fly under the banner of BTH 2017, Bennett said. The first MEDRETE was held in Ladyville in April, and saw a total of 3,500 patients. The next event was in San Ignacio, at the beginning of May, and saw well over 5,000 patients. On the first day of the Dangriga event, providers saw nearly six hundred people, with hundreds more still in line at the end of the day.
Bennett was part of the team who put together these healthcare events, working closely with civil authorities, local doctors and volunteers.
“Without their help, we wouldn’t be able to help as many people as we want to,” Bennett said.
Diane Williams, president-elect of the Dangriga Rotary Club, was among the first volunteers to show up to offer their assistance.
“Today I am volunteering my services as a Rotarian here in Dangriga, to see how I can help my community,” Williams said. “One of our functions as a Rotarian is to help build our community, and that is what I enjoy doing.”
Many people in the community could not otherwise afford the medical services provided by BTH 2017, said Williams.
“Many of the children cannot go to the dentist, so they never get their teeth cleaned,” she said. “Vision is another thing, the whole medical aspect of it many of us cannot afford.”
“This is very rewarding for me," said Senior Airman Gian Vera, a member of the 96th Medical Group from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. “I’ve never traveled anywhere with the Air Force before. This is actually what I signed up for, to be able to go out and help other people around the world. I like it.”
The Dandriga MEDRETE event will be open every day until June 1, 2017.