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Air Force Personnel Initiate Humanitarian Tour in Rural Panama

OCU, Panama -- While not quite as high tech as his office back home, Optometrist James Hammond is able to properly diagnose his patients and provide them with the correct lenses during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise Jan. 12 in southern Panama. Thirty-six U.S. Air Force medical personnel, mostly with 452nd Aerospace Medical Squadron of March Air Reserve Base, Calif., participated in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

OCU, Panama -- While not quite as high tech as his office back home, Optometrist James Hammond is able to properly diagnose his patients and provide them with the correct lenses during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise Jan. 12 in southern Panama. Thirty-six U.S. Air Force medical personnel, mostly with 452nd Aerospace Medical Squadron of March Air Reserve Base, Calif., participated in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

OCU, Panama --  Patients hiked to medical care sites from as much as four hours away to recieve care from U.S. Air Force medical personnel during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise Jan. 12 in southern Panama. MEDRETE personnel are briefed to prepare for large crowds and trained on organizing large groups of people. Thirty-six U.S. Air Force medical personnel, mostly with 452nd Aerospace Medical Squadron of March Air Reserve Base, Calif., participated in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

OCU, Panama -- Patients hiked to medical care sites from as much as four hours away to recieve care from U.S. Air Force medical personnel during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise Jan. 12 in southern Panama. MEDRETE personnel are briefed to prepare for large crowds and trained on organizing large groups of people. Thirty-six U.S. Air Force medical personnel, mostly with 452nd Aerospace Medical Squadron of March Air Reserve Base, Calif., participated in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

OCU, Panama --  1st Lt. Primitiv Pena, an emergency room nurse with the 452nd Aerospace Medical Squadron, explains a patient's prescription during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise Jan. 12 in southern Panama. Medications are given out with directions in the patient's native language. Thirty-six U.S. Air Force medical personnel, mostly from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., participated in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

OCU, Panama -- 1st Lt. Primitiv Pena, an emergency room nurse with the 452nd Aerospace Medical Squadron, explains a patient's prescription during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise Jan. 12 in southern Panama. Medications are given out with directions in the patient's native language. Thirty-six U.S. Air Force medical personnel, mostly from March Air Reserve Base, Calif., participated in the exercise. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

OCU, Panama -- Thirty-six U.S. Air Force medical personnel began treating patients as part of a Medical Readiness training Exercise near the town of Ocu in the Azuero Peninsula of Southern Panama on Jan. 12. 

These exercises focus on providing opportunities for U.S. military personnel to interact with similar professionals from around the world while simultaneously providing the highest levels of medical care to remote populations in areas that are difficult to adequately treat by the host nation. 

"These types of exercises allow our military medics the opportunity to gain valuable training in deploying to remote places around the world," said Lt. Col. Michael Dickey, MEDRETE commander from the 452nd Aerospace Medical Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, Calif. "The primary mission is to provide a wide array of medical care to upwards of 7,500 people during a two-week period. Our providers universally agree this has been an exceptional learning opportunity. They really appreciate and enjoy working with their Panamanian counterparts."

The Air Force team is working in partnership with the Panamanian Ministry of Health, particularly Dr. Rafael Gonzalez, Sub-Director Ministry of Health, Herrera, Panama. 

"It is readily apparent Dr. Gonzalez has the highest concern for the people of Herrera," Colonel Dickey said. "Our team has been impressed with his tireless efforts. Dr. Gonzalez has worked with us to bring optimal supplies and medication tailored to the populations of Los Llanos, Las Minas, and Los Pozos, the three towns we are here to serve." 

With the addition of 70 Panamanian medical personnel, Colonel Dickey feels very confident the team will achieve their goal of maximizing their capabilities while getting the best possible training. 

A combination of medical personnel from the two countries served three days each in the towns of Los Llanos and Las Minas, and four days in Los Pozos. They offer services in dentistry, ophthalmology, internal medicine, pediatrics, and women's health. Additionally, they have pooled their resources and created a public health session designed to promote the prevention of disease and a healthier lifestyle. 

Sometimes getting to their treatment sites is an adventure unto itself. Their first site, Los Llanos, involved a two hour ride to the rural school that would serve as their temporary work site. The first hour to the city of Ocu went well, however the last 12 miles of the bumpy ride over unimproved roads lasted upwards of 60 minutes and left the medics feeling a little queasy. After arrival, the team quickly transformed a rural school into a temporary hospital. 

"We all seem to get a little extra energy as we finally pull up to our sites," said Senior Airman Katiria Sanchez, a reserve health services administrator from Victorville, Calif. "I have done this before and it's just amazing how with minimal direction a flurry of activity leads to a functioning hospital. It usually takes us less than 15 minutes for all areas to begin treating patients. 

"These missions involve long, difficult days but I can't think of a better way of being trained to carry out my duties for the Air Force."

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