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South and Central American medical missions surge in April-May

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Eric Petosky
  • 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Public Affairs
Air Force medical personnel will engage in 13 deployments for training to Central and South America in the months of April and May, a surge accounting for nearly 40% of the DFT missions scheduled for the year. 

DFTs put Air Force medics, active-duty, guard, and reserve, into remote areas of the region to provide patient care, from dentistry to life-altering surgeries. The medics partner with host nation ministries of health and non-governmental aid organizations to not only provide service, but help identify local needs to better serve the population in the future. 

"We continue to leverage these platforms of medical care to deliver a more enduring effect by strengthening the medical capacity of our partner nations," said Col. Scott Van Valkenburg, 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) surgeon general. "We continually assess different regions in regards to individual specialties, working closely with NGOs, local doctors, and ministries of health, to identify local and regional health objectives thereby accomplishing more and more. By building these relationships over the years, we will be able to work in a synergistic and more effective manner- it will allows us to provide targeted quality medical care and have a more sustaining impact." 

Twelfth Air Force plans and participates in 30-35 medical DFTs a year. Nearly 110,000 patients are seen, and 600 surgeries performed in more than a dozen countries. AFSOUTH DFTs are a subset of many other SOUTHCOM medical engagements conducted by other service components such as Continuing Promise 2009, a medical goodwill mission conducted from the USNS Comfort. 

So far, missions have been conducted in Panama, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Honduras. The focus of the missions changes based on the needs of the region. For example, Air Force ear, nose, and throat specialists deployed to Panama, while general medical teams deployed to Jamaica and Honduras. 

Col. Van Valkenburg said without a solid multinational, joint, and total force team, the missions would not be possible. 

"With such high mission density, it is essential that all agencies and units involved communicate and work effectively as one force," he said. "DFTs illustrate how active-duty forces, Guard, and Reserve units from all services, from all over the United States deploy their medical staff to support the same mission. From regional medical centers to smaller clinics, everyone does their part, and we've been very successful."