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News | July 8, 2019

U.S. Military Medical Team Provides Care in Guatemala

By Maj. Olha Vandergriff, 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

CHIANTLA, Guatemala- Men, women, young children and elderly citizens all lined up at 4 a.m. outside of gymnasium doors to received medical services. Medical Readiness Training Exercise is a multi-day medical event that offers general health evaluation, dentistry, optometry, pharmacy and preventive medicine as part of annual exercise Beyond the Horizon 2019. 

Beyond the Horizon is an annual joint training exercise, in which U.S. military forces specializing in construction, engineering, and health care train to improve operational readiness and strengthen relationships with all forces, while also providing tangible benefits to the Guatemalan people. During this exercise the engineers of 365th are building three schools and one medical clinic to leave the host nation with tangible benefits. 

U.S. Armed Forces, Guatemala Armed Forces, several NGOs and volunteer organizations are all working together see about 700 patients in one day. The MEDRETE is scheduled to take place four days this week and four days next week. 

A Jefferson City, Mo. native, Maj. Rachelle Collinge, a medical officer with Missouri National Guard shares about the event. “When patients come in they get to go through medical station and the doctor determine if they need an additional service. We optimize our resources, most needy people receive assistance.” 

Santiago Rodrigues, a carpenter from Chiantla and his wife brought four kids with them to the event. Their kids’ ages range from 8 to 1.5 year old baby. When asked about their experience they simply say “Good. Excellent.” Rodriguez adds “It’s really good to have for my family. We had to get up at 4 a.m. and waited for hours just to be here.” 

“It helps us because it puts my kids on track,” adds Rosa Rodrigues, a mom of four. 

Over the course of four days the joint team of medical professional saw nearly 4,000 patients. The teams worked tireless to offer almost 15,000 services to all the patients. Longs hours and hard work pays off when about 1,100 people finally saw the dentist, some for the first time in their life. Optometry clinic worked with 720 individuals so they can better see the vibrant world around them better. 

“It’s two fold, this is the a training mission for our Soldiers to see what it would be like in the field taking care of our United States Army Soldiers,” explains Collinge. “But also it helps us provide a positive relationship between the country of Guatemala and ourselves and alleviate some health care burden on local population.” 

After four days of services, people will be able to walk out of the gymnasium better then when they walked in because they will be able to function better and feel healthier. 

“You can see people smiling as they leave there. If you can touch one life, you have made a difference,” adds Collinge. 

A mom and daughter are patiently waiting for an optometry station. When asked what she thought of the event, Sofia Gevonima responds “Good, a lot of work to get here.” She moved to Chiantla with a promise of a better salary, but life didn’t turn out as planned. “We paid 300 quetzales for our health services, but that doesn’t afford us anything. So being able to have this is great to keep my daughter healthy,” said Gevonima. With her hand over her heart, she simply adds “muy bien.” 

Gunnery Sgt. Ronamo Alberto Vargas with 4th Civil Affairs Group from Pembroke Pines Florida described the event as providing general medical services to the population with support from the Ministry of Health of Guatemala. “It’s an annual exercise for US Army Soldiers and Marines. Some of that will have secondary effects providing assistance to the population,” explains Vargas. “It’s training for me as an NGO partner coordinator. I work with partners and help them work alongside of U.S. military.”

From day one on April 27 all the entities participating in the event began their planning. Vargas explains that a lot of effort went into it. “I’m really happy that I get to see 5th Brigade from Guatemala, NGOs, Missouri National Guard put this event together and work together,” added Vargas with a wide smile.