Guard members bring medical relief to Guatemalan citizens
By Dialogo August 22, 2008Thirty-one Airmen from theCalifornia Air National Guard's 163rdMedical Group traveled to Guatemala Aug. 18 for a two-week medical readiness training exercise in and aroundSanta Rosa. Hosted by Guatemala and with the cooperation of the Guatemalan military and public health department, the American medics, translators and assistants traveled to the Central American country to provide medical care for impoverished communities. When the team arrived at Aldea Estanzuelas, which is near Santa Rosa andthe first ofthree sites the team visited, hundreds of Guatemalan citizensalready were in line waiting to see the American medical providers who would treat their various ailments. "For the next nine days, my team and I will work hard to ensure we provide the best medical care we can for the citizens of the communities we will visit," said Col. (Dr.) Vincent Dang, the 163rd Medical Group commander. More than 500 local citizens visited various makeshift clinics set up at a local school. The American medicsestablished a triage center in the town's general meeting building to evaluate those needing treatment and to ensure they were seen by the appropriate medical provider. The team also established a dental clinic, led byLt. Col. (Dr.) Philip Bales of the Oregon Air National Guard's 173rd Medical Group, a public health center to distribute information regarding preventative health-related issues, as well as general practice and optometry clinics and a pharmacy. Additionally, Col. (Dr.) David Walton, a California Air National Guard state air surgeon, traveled with the group and established a women's clinic. Throughout the day, providers treated citizens ranging from a few months old to more than 80 year old. "It's very good(the American doctors) have come to help," said Neli Gonzalez, who brought her 7-year-old son to get medical care. "I really liked the doctor." Similarly, Rosa Juarez, who brought her 9-month-old child and 6-year-old daughter to see the doctors in order to get treatment for the children's coughs and fevers, said she was glad to see the doctors, adding she received a lot of attention from them. By the end of the first day, the team saw 515 patients, most of whom visited the personnel in as many as three clinics in addition to receiving medications from the on-site pharmacy. "Being the first day it was challenging for us as we got settled in," Colonel Dang said. "But, we quickly developed a routine and were able to treat a lot of people in a short amount of time, which is what we set out to do." The medical outreach took ateam effort. "The Guatemalan military provided security for our folks while the Guatemalan Department of Public Health ensured we had providers from the country augmenting our team," Colonel Dang said. "But it was the Airmen from the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing, serving as liaisons and translators, and 163rd Medical Group who ensured the first day was successful. I really think we made a difference for the people of this community and I am looking forward to similar results as we move to the other sites throughout our time here." The team spent Aug. 18 through 20 in Aldea Estanzuelas, and traveled to Aldea Las Cabezas Aug. 21 through 24 before heading to Santa Maria de Ixhuatan for the last three days of the medical mission, which is scheduled to end Aug. 28. The humanitarian mission was sponsored by officials from U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Air Forces South.