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Airmen complete humanitarian mission in Chile

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Vanessa Young
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
Members of the Air Force Expeditionary Medical Support team completed a humanitarian mission to build an expeditionary hospital and augment medical care for members of the Angol community here March 26.

A team of Airmen built, staffed and equipped a field hospital to serve more than 110,000 people in the Angol region. During a ceremony March 24, U.S. government officials donated the hospital to the local Chilean medical community.

The hospital in Angol was severely damaged in an 8.8-magnitude earthquake Feb. 27. With the loss of the regional hospital, local medical officials lost the use of 190 beds.

The 82 Airmen from 16 different bases arrived in Chile March 10. With help from members of the Angol community, the Chilean army and the U.S. Agency for International Development, they turned a bare polo field into a fully-operational hospital in three and half days.

Since the hospital opened March 13, Chilean and Air Force medics treated more than 300 patients and performed about 40 surgeries.

Prior to the building of this hospital, medical professionals in Angol used a 16-bed clinic to treat patients in the community.

"Initially we thought we were coming down here to setup and EMEDS +10 to support people injured in the earthquake," said Master Sgt. Joel Shepherd, the EMEDs first sergeant and setup lead. "When we got here we realized that medical infrastructure was what needed support, so we were tasked to build 13 Alaskan shelters and six large general purpose tents; to build a field hospital with the ward capability of about 70 beds."
With the addition of this hospital, health professionals in Angol will have back more than 60 percent of the beds lost as a result of the earthquake.

The U.S. Agency for International Development Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance provided $8.6 million to support the expeditionary facility and staff for a 14-day operational period.

"Since EMEDs has come along, it has put Air Force medics on the deployment map," Sergeant Shepherd said. "As medical Airmen, this is what we do, what we train for. (EMEDs) embodies our ability to provide rapid global mobility and agile combat support, two of our distinct capabilities in the Air Force. We (EMEDs Airmen here) definitely represented that capability to our allies."

For many Airmen, this was their first opportunity to put their EMEDs training into practice.

"It has been a very rewarding experience," said Senior Airman Amber Olszen, an aerospace medical technician deployed from the 81st Surgical Inpatient Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. "We built a hospital from scratch; it was hard work, but I would do it again in a heartbeat and the Chileans were very grateful for it."

This field hospital will augment medical care in the region for the next two to three years while the Angol hospital is being rebuilt.

"We came here to build something, not to meet our needs, but the needs of the local community," said Col. David Garrison, the EMEDs commander. "We came here with open minds and open hearts, and we listened. We took their input and together we made a very successful operation."