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News | Aug. 19, 2019

Joining forces maintain operability, provide medical care

By Maria Pinel Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

Soldiers with the U.S. Army Reserve assigned to Joint Task Force-Bravo conducted a Medical Readiness Training Exercise with Honduran military counterparts in the Atlántida department, to provide basic medical services at local schools in the Frutera, Saladito and Boca del Toro villages, August 6 – 8, here.

The U.S. military medical team was comprised of service members who will be redeploying after completing a nine-month assignment at Soto Cano Air Base, and incoming personnel from the 352nd Combat Support Hospital.

“It’s imperative that the teams go out together and have an opportunity to show them ‘hey, this a way we did it’, and nurture them and give them an opportunity in a guided construct where they’re not having to figure it out after we’re gone,” said U.S. Army Sgt 1st Class Donald Barbato, NCO-in-charge of operations for the exercise.

The concept behind this type of composition is to implement the “left seat, right seat” technique, to allow both teams to overlap so the new unit can learn from the previous one. This process allows the unit to stay operational as personnel rotate in and out.

“We get the opportunity to see numerous patients and this is phenomenal, especially from a reservist stand point. There’s no other real way to accomplish this otherwise. As we say the left seat, right seat; here’s what I’m doing, here’s what you’ll be doing,” said Barbato. “I really enjoyed having that broader understanding of the mission set as well as having the opportunity to deal with a lot of our soldiers and be a mentor to some of them and guide them through to give them a better understanding of the big picture.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Lashonda McDonald is the new NCO-in-charge of dental with the 352nd Combat Support Hospital. She arrived in Honduras with great expectations for the first deployment of her military career.

“I want to be able to get out there and help as much as possible, get my hands dirty when it comes to going out and doing missions. I would like to be able to work alongside different cultures and be able to help them,” said Sgt. McDonald

McDonald had the opportunity to work with a Honduran Air Force dentist as well as observe how the previous dental provider operated in a limited resource environment; interactions that will enhance her readiness and deployment capabilities, a priority for the U.S. Southern Command.

“My experience was amazing. Being able to have the opportunity to sit with the person that is leaving and seeing how they run things and how the flow is supposed to go,” said Sgt. Mcdonald. “These missions give me the opportunity to work in an environment where you don’t have everything and this will allow me to work better because I’ll know how to work without.”

The three-day mission encompassed several different services, including dental, public health, preventative health, primary care and general surgery in the Atlántida Regional Hospital.

Providing general surgeries for Honduran patients frees the local providers to treat other complex cases, while the U.S. Army team helps alleviate the surgical backlog for common cases such as hernias and cholecystectomies. 

Medical engagements are part of U.S. SOUTHCOM’s Enduring Promise initiative, and aid the host nation by augmenting Ministry of Health efforts to provide care. The mission also provides an opportunity for U.S. and Honduran military personnel to strengthen their existing and long-standing partnership.

“The partnership with the Hondurans is probably the part I enjoy the most,” said Barbato as he reflected on the closure of his assignment in Honduras. “It’s been a great experience for me as far as being in the operations roll. Looking at the partnerships we develop and having a better understanding of the scope of what we’re doing down here and how medical is a part of it.”

These opportunities for real-world practices and experiences make JTF-B a unique assignment and can provide service members with valuable lessons and skill sets throughout their military career.

“Through this deployment, I was able to redefine the relationship of being a provider seeing a patient. By them walking into my life and asking for help, that allows me to utilize my talent and skills to helps them,” said U.S. Army Spc. Young Won Ham, JTFB preventive medicine. “If we strive to always maximize our talent it’s really worth all of our time and efforts, and that is how we in JTF-B get to challenge ourselves.”

The combined efforts between the U.S. troops and their Honduran counterparts provided services to 739 medical patients, 207 dental patients and 17 surgeries, and helped JTF-Bravo personnel maintain their expeditionary capabilities and medical readiness.

“The beauty of medical care is that education and kindness are infinite, and having the patient smile after them walking two days to get here really humbles me. This deployment taught me a lot, and it’s taught me how to value them, and this is something that I can carry to my next step and throughout my entire life,” said Ham.