MELCHOR DE MENCOS, Guatemala --
Approximately 44 service members battled the Central American summer heat and humidity to deliver healthcare to the local population during Resolute Sentinel 21 (RS-21).
Active duty and reservist personnel from the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force administered dental, medical, and veterinary care and education during RS-21, a new 12th Air Force (Air Force Southern) and U.S. Southern Command exercise that evolved from the longstanding New Horizons humanitarian assistance exercise.
This mission promotes interoperability and allows the relationship between nations to strengthen and grow. By carrying out this exercise, these U.S. military professionals have now gained critical training and experience through conducting hands-on medical care in a deployed environment.
The dental team performed cleanings, extractions and, in cases where cavities were small, they were able to apply silver diamine fluoride to help prevent further tooth decay. U.S. Army Maj. Laron Cotton, a dentist with the 185th Dental Company, from Orange County, Calif., reflected on his experience during the two-week dental portion of RS-21.
“I am so happy that I’ve had this opportunity,” said Cotton. “When you look at the very essence of why we became providers, oftentimes we’ve done it because we felt like we wanted to contribute to society, to help people and when you’re in an environment like this, that is exactly what it’s all about.”
The medical portion of the exercise took place at four local schools and included two Medical Training Engagement Program (MEDTEP) teams, with members mostly from the 228th Combat Support Hospital of Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. Each MEDTEP team paired with the Guatemalan Ministry of Health to offer family medicine sick call, preventive medicine through education and pharmacy services for outpatient medications.
One of the active-duty primary care providers, U.S. Army Capt. Heather Meier, a physician assistant with U.S. Army South, Higher Headquarters Battalion, of Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, expressed appreciation for being a part of this mission.
“I feel very honored and humbled after participating in RS-21 and I am grateful to be given the opportunity to see and treat a unique population very different than my normal patient population,” said Meier. “I was able to expand my medical knowledge and take away lessons learned to improve my practice in tropical environments.”
While the others were taking care of the people of Petén, the veterinary team worked alongside Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture personnel to vaccinate hundreds of cattle against harmful diseases. The group also taught lessons to local farmers on how to plan successful breeding seasons and basic cattle safety, sanitation and health practices.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rene Aventura, a veterinary support personnelist with the 109th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services out of Garden Grove, Calif., shares how he feels about this mission.
“This is a meaningful program, directed to improve the health of the people and of the animals,” said Aventura. “I felt honored and humbled to be part of this great endeavor put forth by our U.S. armed forces, that makes a big difference in the lives of the people of Peten, Guatemala.”
Not only does proper veterinary care keep cattle healthy, but it also reduces the risk of cross-species transmission of harmful diseases, thus keeping the local population in good health as well.
By the end of RS-21, the dental team helped 722 patients, the medical teams treated 1,454 patients, and the veterinary team vaccinated 1,917 heads of cattle.
Missions like these are made possible by U.S. service members and partner nations who may seem quite different but share the common goal of wanting to bring healthcare and education to the people of rural Guatemala. The strong relationship between the two countries is based on mutual respect and shared values.