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Air Force Medics in Panama for Humanitarian Mission

Sr. Amn. Dexter J. Raflores, a technician from the 42nd Medical Group at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., deployed to Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) Panama tests the pressure in a patient?s eye to screen for glaucoma at the Escuela de Cabuya school in Cabuya, Panama 14 July. The MEDRETE is a two-week long U.S. Southern Command sponsored exercise designed to hone the skills of medical personnel while providing free health care in remote locations through partnership with host nation doctors. Approximately 535 patients were seen by the medical staff at the Cabuya location 14 July. (Photo by Capt. Ben Sakrisson, Air University Public Affairs)

Sr. Amn. Dexter J. Raflores, a technician from the 42nd Medical Group at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., deployed to Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) Panama tests the pressure in a patient?s eye to screen for glaucoma at the Escuela de Cabuya school in Cabuya, Panama 14 July. The MEDRETE is a two-week long U.S. Southern Command sponsored exercise designed to hone the skills of medical personnel while providing free health care in remote locations through partnership with host nation doctors. Approximately 535 patients were seen by the medical staff at the Cabuya location 14 July. (Photo by Capt. Ben Sakrisson, Air University Public Affairs)

The Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) Panama Mission Commander, Lt. Col. Joseph A. Lopez, the 42nd Wing Chief of Aerospace Medicine Services at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., looks onto the crowds of patients during the opening ceremony at the Escuela de Cabuya school in Cabuya, Panama 14 July. The MEDRETE is a two-week long U.S. Southern Command-sponsored exercise designed to hone the skills of medical personnel while providing free health care in remote locations through partnership with host nation doctors. Approximately 535 patients were seen by the medical staff at the Cabuya location on 14 July. (Photo by Capt. Ben Sakrisson, Air University Public Affairs)

The Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) Panama Mission Commander, Lt. Col. Joseph A. Lopez, the 42nd Wing Chief of Aerospace Medicine Services at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., looks onto the crowds of patients during the opening ceremony at the Escuela de Cabuya school in Cabuya, Panama 14 July. The MEDRETE is a two-week long U.S. Southern Command-sponsored exercise designed to hone the skills of medical personnel while providing free health care in remote locations through partnership with host nation doctors. Approximately 535 patients were seen by the medical staff at the Cabuya location on 14 July. (Photo by Capt. Ben Sakrisson, Air University Public Affairs)

Chitrè, Panama -- A two-week U.S. Southern Command sponsored exercise designed to hone the skills of medical personnel while providing free health care in remote locations began here Saturday with the arrival of medics from seven military installations. 

The Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) to Panama is one of approximately 70 MEDRETEs sponsored each year by U.S. Southern Command and through partnership with host nation doctors will treat patients at three rural locations. 

The range of medical specialties of the Air Force medics involved in this MEDRETE includes dentists, optometrists, general physicians, a pediatrician and a dermatologist. 

While Panama has a national health care system, in many remote locations it is cost prohibitive for patients to travel to a doctor on a regular basis. The intent of this mission is to bring medical care to a location accessible by the patients and enable those requiring routine care to simultaneously be entered into the government health care system. 

The opportunity to deliver free medical care can make a lifelong difference to patients suffering from maladies for extended periods of time. 

"As long as they do not lose the eyeglasses they will last them for a number of years," said Maj. Darrell S. Grise, an Optometrist here from the 96th Aeromedical Dental Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. "We get a lot of bang for the buck, at a relatively low cost for a pair of glasses, the patients see a drastic difference in their lives." 

Some of the doctors have been on numerous humanitarian aid missions before, such as Grise who has been on four previous trips. For others, like Capt. Bryan A. Farford, a family physician here from the 81st Medical Operations Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., this is their first experience. 

"I had been wanting to do this for a while, but I did not know how to get selected, but one day I got a call and it just fell into my lap," said Farford. "It is rewarding to me to be able to take part in such a wonderful experience. I feel that this is a great opportunity to provide medical care for people that do not have true access to care." 

In the weeks ahead, it is anticipated that the medical team will see thousands of patients over the course of the MEDRETE.

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