By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo March 10, 2017Thirty-five-year-old Rosalidia Ortiz, feels blessed and fortunate for the medical brigades she has been able to attend in Corinto, Honduras, over the years. She has received free medical and dental care since she was a teenager. Twenty-two years later, she continues to benefit from them; now with her three children. Eight-year-old Alexander patiently sits next to her while waiting to get a tooth removed. “The medical brigades are good for the community because they bring a lot of medicine and they provide medical services,” said Ortiz. Eighteen-year-old Zulma Vega has also received the same care throughout her lifetime. Today, she brings her three-year-old daughter Idian with her for a medical consultation. “The medical brigade is a great benefit… This is a very important opportunity for us, because we don’t always have the opportunity to get care in Corinto.” Ortiz and Vega were part of the 747 local patients from the municipality of Corinto, in north western Honduras, who received medical care during the two-day Medical Readiness Training Exercise (MEDRETE) on Feb. 16th and 17th. The MEDRETE was held at a local school set up as a makeshift clinic, where military and civilian medical professionals joined to provide preventive medicine, basic medical attention, and dental and pharmacy services to local residents who would otherwise have to travel long distances and pay out-of-pocket expenses to receive medical care. The MEDRETEs are part of Joint Task Force-Bravo’s (JTF-Bravo) Medical Element (MEDEL) mission as a U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) component command. The MEDEL coordinates with Central American ministries of health to conduct MEDRETEs in local communities, thereby providing real-world situations in which U.S. military personnel put into practice their medical skills jointly with partner nation counterparts under critical conditions. The experience validates their capabilities to respond to a humanitarian mission or natural disaster within Central America. Medical brigades in action The MEDRETE in Corinto is one of a three-part medical campaign in the Honduran state of Cortés. U.S. military doctors, nurses, and dentists, together with personnel from the Honduran Ministry of Health, Armed Forces, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Honduran chapter of the International Committee of the Red Cross cared for patients at the school, while a mobile surgical team performed gallbladder and hernia surgeries at the local hospital in Puerto Cortes, an hour away. Two days later a police partnership engagement took place in San Pedro Sula, two hours east of Corinto. “MEDRETEs provide the personnel of JTF-Bravo with valuable training;” said U.S. Army Major William Laver, officer-in-charge of the event in Corinto. “It also allows us to meet with the Honduran people and provide care for them, and maybe pay the host nation back for hosting us.” In fact, during the last 25 years, JTF-Bravo has provided medical and dental treatment to more than 512,000 Central Americans. Sharing knowledge and fomenting relationships “We enrich ourselves with the knowledge the medical brigade brings with them as well as with what we have to offer,” said Doctor Juan Carlos Ramos Mejía, Honduran liaison to the MEDEL. “There are times that our hospital doesn’t have enough capacity to tend to many patients, so the brigades help us counter that deficiency and offer health services to our community.” In addition to exchanging knowledge in the medical field, JTF-Bravo personnel had the opportunity to create ties with local health providers, Honduran Armed Forces counterparts, NGOs, and the community in general. “All our MEDRETTEs are multi-institutional, which is very important,” said Honduran dentist Wilme Amador, a liaison to the MEDEL. “The reason why Hondurans are familiar with JTF-Bravo is precisely their humanitarian-civic assistance work done over the years. The close-to-16-mission-per-year performed by the Medical Element have been a vital part of the community”, said Dr. Amador. Community health education is another service provided at this type of event. “We educate people about hygiene and sanitation, emphasizing on vector-borne diseases that are spreading right now, such as chikungunya, dengue, and zika,”, said Honduran Army Senior Master Sergeant Luis Alonso Alemán, health aid and lead of the preventive medicine program. “The medical brigades are very beneficial to these communities because they help a lot of people who do not have money to pay a doctor,” added Senior Master Sgt. Alemán, who has been contributing with JTF-Bravo’s medical brigades for two decades. He knows first-hand how eagerly the local people expect the medical brigades. This year, Corinto’s residents were eager for their arrival, so when the MEDRETE began, promptly at 8 a.m., hundreds of people already lined the streets around the school to welcome the personnel and get their conditions treated. “We are two partner nations,” stated Senior Master Sgt. Alemán, asserting the importance of the JTF-Bravo and Honduran Armed Force’s partnership. “They come to serve our people.” The data on the myriad benefits brought forth by the medical campaigns is undeniably positive. However, seeing a satisfied Ortiz leave the medical site holding Alexander’s hand while flashing a bright smile, says it without words or data. She represents the success of the mission.