SALITRE participants bring smiles to Chilean children
By Senior Master Sgt. Elizabeth Gilbert, Texas Air National Guard Public Affairs
/ Published October 15, 2014
ANTOFAGASTA, Chile -- More than 30 military members from five countries visited the Leonardo Guzman Regional Hospital children's ward in Chile, Oct. 11, as part of a community outreach event for SALITRE 2014.
The U.S., Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are participating in this year's exercise, which is being hosted by Chile at Cerro Moreno Air Force Base, Oct. 6-17. The military members brought gifts and spent time visiting with the hospitalized children.
"We did a good thing here. Hospitalized children can always use a little sunshine and a friendly smile to help their healing process," said Col. (Dr.) Richard Vatt, flight medicine, 136th Medical Group, Texas Air National Guard, a traditional guardsman, who is in Chile augmenting for the 149th Fighter Wing flight doctor during SALITRE 2014., "Parents all over the world love their children, it's not any different here in Chile."
The hospital visit is considered to be a social responsibility by the Chilean air force, who hosted the visit. It is a way to establish community relations between the local residents and the military.
"This visit [to Leonardo Guzman Regional Hospital] is to show our local community that SALITRE 2014 is not all about combat missions, but a humanitarian mission as well," said Vilma Vega Berrios, internal communications, Chilean air force. "It is our way of connecting with our communities."
Among the military members visiting the hospital was Maj. Andrew Davenport, F-16 pilot, 149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, a traditional guardsman and a full time internal-medicine doctor in private practice, who speaks fluent Spanish. He comfortably communicated with the children, understanding their complaints and responding with a kind smile and words of encouragement.
The military members from each country went from room-to-room handing out gifts such as toys, balls, patches and hats, as each child eagerly waited to accept them. The parents were grateful for the early Christmas presents and they too had big smiles.
"The concern the parents have for the care of their child--it's universal," Vatt said. "It's an experience I will not forget."