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U.S. and Honduran medical team explore problems, solutions

Maj. Luis Otero, a flight surgeon with the 60th Medical Operations Group discusses the dental equipment used in the clinic with a Honduran officer at Acosta Mejia Air Force Base, Tegucigalpa, Honduras on July 17, 2012.  Over the next 30 days Otero will meet with many Honduran clinic administrators to trade ideas and experiences to help each other as part of efforts to build partner capacity in between the U.S. and Honduran air forces.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. James Stewart)

Maj. Luis Otero, a flight surgeon with the 60th Medical Operations Group discusses the dental equipment used in the clinic with a Honduran officer at Acosta Mejia Air Force Base, Tegucigalpa, Honduras on July 17, 2012. Over the next 30 days Otero will meet with many Honduran clinic administrators to trade ideas and experiences to help each other as part of efforts to build partner capacity in between the U.S. and Honduran air forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. James Stewart)

Dr. Jose Ramone Rivera, the Honduran Air Force flight surgeon, and Major Luis Otero, a flight surgeon with the 60th Medical Operations Group, discuss Dr. Rivera’s concerns about some of the processes used in the clinic in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on July 17, 2012.  Over the next 30 days Rivera and Otero will bring their teams together to trade ideas and experiences to help each other as part of efforts to build partner capacity in between the U.S. and Honduran air forces.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. James Stewart)

Dr. Jose Ramone Rivera, the Honduran Air Force flight surgeon, and Major Luis Otero, a flight surgeon with the 60th Medical Operations Group, discuss Dr. Rivera’s concerns about some of the processes used in the clinic in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on July 17, 2012. Over the next 30 days Rivera and Otero will bring their teams together to trade ideas and experiences to help each other as part of efforts to build partner capacity in between the U.S. and Honduran air forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. James Stewart)

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS -- Inside a small examination room an air conditioning unit hums away, working overtime to keep the room comfortable. The addition of chairs flushed against the wall and behind tabletops set on top of unsteady legs makes the room appear more like a classroom than a medical examination room. The air conditioners slogging goes unnoticed by the group occupying the space; they are deep in conversation discussing the future of medical services within the Honduran Air Force.

The group consists of U.S. Airmen and Honduran physicians; actually, the Honduran Air Force's only flight surgeon and his team. The Air Force's presence in Honduras is part of an effort to build partnerships and increase partner capacity with foreign air forces.

"We are here to share our experiences with our fellow Honduran airmen," says Capt. Wayne Gutman, a medical administration liaison from the 559th Medical Group at Lackland Air Force Base who deployed to support the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron. The MSAS is a contingency response unit whose mission involves engaging foreign air forces and forging lasting relationships with them.

"It's extremely exciting because I get to lend a hand, helping my Honduran counterparts discover solutions to the things they consider to be their biggest problems," continues Capt. Gutman.

Through the course of the conversation Dr. Jose Ramone Rivera, the Honduran Air Force's sole flight surgeon, points out several areas of though on his mind. "All the topics we are concerned about relate to flight and contributing to the safety of flight."

The Hondurans identify processes and procedures they feel may need improvement. These areas lead to a dialogue between the Hondurans and Americans where everyone tries to come up with solutions aimed at increasing operational capacity for the Hondurans.

One such safety issue immediately becomes apparent as Dr. Rivera and his team begins discussing how they currently go about tracking medical physical examinations of their pilots. "Every year on their birthday, an easy day to remember, they are supposed to get their physicals completed."

"Readiness is mission number one for all airmen of all nations and medical readiness plays a huge part," Capt. Gutman says, "and right away as Dr. Rivera was telling us about his concerns I thought how the Hondurans could build a simple spreadsheet to help them track their pilots' physical dates. It really is a simple answer."

Finding solutions is one small portion of the overall mission in Honduras. The MSAS has spent the last year conducting missions aimed at adding more capability to partner nations in Central America.

"It's really about interoperability, working together," adds Lt. Col. Joseph Sanchez, the MSAS commander. "Truly through these missions, these exchanges of ideas, we learn what we can do to help our fellow airmen here in Honduras. The MSAS was here at the beginning of 2012 and we plan to come to Honduras twice a year. The last time we were here the Hondurans presented the assessment team with some issues they were having with filing their medical records. Working together with my team, the Hondurans were able to find a fix for their problems by using different colored folders to separate their records."

"The answer is always using the right amount of technology. Sure electronic record keeping systems are efficient and everyone wants them, but what works best for the Hondurans today? For Dr. Rivera, safety for his pilots is a huge priority just as it is for us in America." Capt. Gutman says. "I'm here helping build a lasting relationship with my Honduran colleagues and I think assisting Dr. Rivera in keeping his pilots safe and cleared to fly goes a long way toward accomplishing that mission."

July 17th marks the first day of discussions between Hondurans and Americans. Medical is just one of the seven areas of information exchange. Over the coming month other areas will be covered including air base defense, aircrew survival, aircraft maintenance, communications, fuels and supply management.

Nearly two hours pass and the conversation comes to a conclusion. Dr. Rivera stands and addresses everyone in the small room, "you have to work hard, improve your knowledge and take advantage of opportunities life gives you...opportunities like this."

Slowly the group files out of the room into the hallway to tour the medical facility and the shabby bronze lock clicks shut as the door closes. All alone the air conditioner labors on cooling the improvised classroom because tomorrow the room will be full of eager minds ready to discover the right solutions together as partners.

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