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First-term Airmen broaden skills in Dominican Republic

ARENOSO, Dominican Republic -- Airmen on a Medical Readiness Training Exercise here are stepping out of their traditional home-station roles and enhancing their existing skill-sets by training in medical competencies they do not have the opportunity to experience back home. 

The Airmen face tough, sweaty, long hours of confusion, constant rehydration and sporadic meal breaks spent searching for patients with conditions requiring immediate care among those who inflate their medical concerns to gain entrance to the hottest attraction in town. 

"I had heard about humanitarian missions, but I had no idea that they helped this many people and took this much work," said Senior Airman Carmen G. Stewart, a Public Health Technician from the 42nd Medical Group at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. 

Each day is distinguished by piercing moments of lucidity that remind the medics why they volunteer for these missions; from a young girl breaking down in tears of happiness after she learns that spots on her skin are not fatal, to new eyeglasses bringing a smile on an old man's face as he reads for the first time in years. 

"It is a great experience helping people that actually need to be helped," said Senior Airman Eric L. Ivie, a Dental Technician from the 42nd MDG. "People here really appreciate the services that we deliver." 

In return for delivering a memorable experience to Airmen the Air Force gains a service member that is accustomed to a rigorous deployed work schedule and is trained and flexible enough to backfill gaps in other specialties beyond their core AFSC. 

Airman 1st Class Tania N. Dimas, a Patient Administrator for the 42nd MG, primarily worked as a translator but also took advantage of the opportunity to assist in other areas as well. 

"I worked in the pharmacy, I had never done that before, it was cool," said Airman 1st Class Tania N. Dimas, a Patient Administrator for the 42nd MDG. "I learned the names of a whole bunch of medications." 

"I want to be a doctor, and doing the stuff here with the doctors reconfirmed how much I want to become a physician," said Senior Airman Antonieta M. Jara, a public health technician from the 12th MDG at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. 

There is a steep learning curve, even for experienced personnel, as each site presents unique challenges from site layout to patient flow and keeping the crowd under control. Compounding the issue, the time available to refine a workable process at each site was extremely limited as the medical team moved from one site to the next every three workdays. 

It quickly began to feel like groundhogs day; wake up, eat breakfast, ride an hour on the bus, treat a thousand patients for endless hours, jump back on the bus and repeat, repeat, repeat . . . adapt, adapt, adapt. 

For Stewart this mission has special significance as she was promoted to Senior Airman on April 25. 

"Everyone else just promotes," said Stewart, "I get to do it in the Dominican Republic." 

The team of 45 medics and support personnel treated approximately 7,700 patients during the first seven days of medical operations here in the northern region of the Dominican Republic as part of the U.S. SOUTHCOM sponsored Beyond the Horizon 2009 - Caribbean.

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