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U.S. Military Helps Provide Medical Care in Guatemala

By Sgt. Christina Dion, 319th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala – The sounds of hundreds of people talking, babies crying, and children playing fill the air as U.S. Forces ready tents and supplies to treat Guatemalan citizens in need of medical care during a medical readiness training exercise in San Sebastián, Huehuetenango, during Beyond the Horizon, May 20-24, 2019.

Beyond the Horizon is an annual exercise designed to build partner nation capacity for civil and military response to major disasters. The relationships built and sustained through this exercise demonstrate the ability of the U.S. and regional partners to access and execute disaster relief activities throughout Central America. 

Medical, dental and vision care was provided by multiple organizations that include Soldiers from the Missouri National Guard Medical Detachment, U.S. Army Reserve 185th Dental Company, U.S. Air Force Reserve 87th Medical Support Squadron, Guatemala Ministry of Public Health, non-governmental organization Florida International University and Guatemalan forces over five days and helped provide needed medical and dental care for citizens of San Sebastian, Huehuetenango. 

Providers saw more than 3,700 residents over five days. More than 1,600 people were seen by general medicine, almost 1,700 went through dental, 750 had their vision checked in optometry, and almost 1,000 children were seen in pediatrics. 

“Some of these people have had very little medical care,” said Capt. Tabitha Osiier, a medical services officer assigned to the Missouri Med. Det. “This makes a very big impact on them, whether it’s giving vitamins or dental extractions.” 

People appreciated the attention to their health needs, she said. 

“Every single person I spoke to who has come through the MEDRETE has been incredibly thankful for the care we’ve been able to provide.” 

In addition to helping those in need, this training is crucial for Soldiers, as it allows them to practice hands-on skills, collaborate with different organizations and work through translators to communicate.

“When it comes to unit-level operations, a lot of our soldiers haven’t had the opportunity to work in that environment before,” said Osiier. “It was a really good chance for our team to work together and exercise our adaptability in a challenging environment with a broader range of patient needs.” 

Part of the challenge was understanding the capabilities of each participating entity and applying that to patient care with respect to the number of services they could provide each patient, she said. They wanted to give residents as many services as they could, in the time allotted, without causing inefficiencies.

“We've practiced for these exercises back at home, but nothing compares to the real thing. Out in the field, we are going to encounter situations we couldn't have foreseen or prepared for,” said Pvt. Isaiah Ramirez, a Soldier assigned to the Missouri National Guard Medical Detachment.

Adding to the complexity was working in an area with people that speak multiple languages. In Guatemala it is common for people to speak Spanish or Mam, a Mayan language, which has many different dialects itself. Along with English and Spanish translators, the mission also required Spanish and Mam translators, which were provided by the Guatemalan army civil affairs. 

In addition to the medical and dental care, pharmaceutical services were also provided to give antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, vitamins, and other commonly used medications that are readily available in the United States, but not as easily accessible in Guatemala. 

If patients required additional care, the Guatemalan Ministry of Public Health nurse wrote referrals for more advanced care through the Guatemalan health system. 

Other missions being carried out during exercise Beyond the Horizon 2019 include: veterinary readiness training exercises; four construction projects that include one medical center and three schools; and operations staff to provide meals, clean water, laundry and shower facilities, logistical support, planning operations, medical support, religious activities, to name a few. This year's iteration of Beyond the Horizon runs from May to August 2019.


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