Salvadorans Benefit from Medical Care through Continuing Promise 2015
By Dialogo September 07, 2015
United States Navy Commander Raúl Barrientos, a native of El Salvador who has spent the past 15 years working in the U.S., was one of dozens of service members who recently provided medical and dental care to thousands of Salvadorans through the Continuing Promise 2015 (CP-15) humanitarian mission sponsored by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
When the hospital ship USNS Comfort docked in the warm waters of the Port of Acajutla in the department of Sonsonate, Cdr. Barrientos was among the dentists and physicians who provided more than 100 surgeries and conducted more than 12,000 medical check-ups during the two-week mission in June.
“My parents and grandparents were born right here in San Julián, Sonsonate,” Cdr. Barrientos said while treating a patient. “To be able to come back now and lend a hand makes me very happy. To see people smile in gratitude to the people of the United States is very satisfying.”
The USNS Comfort’s visit to El Salvador was its fourth to the country since its initial operation in 2007, as the U.S. Military’s humanitarian mission has helped thousands of Salvadorans by providing dental and medical care, including surgeries in pediatrics, ophthalmology, gastroenterology, and orthopedics, among others. CP-15 personnel also performed engineering projects, including repairs and construction at the Special Education School and at the National Institute in Acajutla, in addition to overseeing three veterinary campaigns and holding workshops on natural disaster management and humanitarian aid with personnel from the Sonsonate National Hospital and the Central Military Hospital of the Salvadoran Armed Forces (FAES).
By the time Continuing Promise 2015 completes its mission, the altruistic physicians will have helped some 100,000 people in Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Panama.
Helping needy patients
The Salvadoran patients are grateful for the aid the Comfort provided them and happy that one of their own returned to El Salvador as part of the humanitarian mission.
“Words cannot express how thankful I am for what this good man is doing for us,” Julia del Carmen Rivas, a 55-year-old housewife, said between sobs. “Dental services are expensive, and I needed help urgently. I almost couldn’t even eat because of the damage to my teeth. Now, my life has changed thanks to this man, and all his U.S. colleagues.”
San Julián Mayor Bella Francia also was appreciative.
“We are very grateful to the United States military for having included us in their aid mission,” she said. “We are also very proud to see a Salvadoran native, from San Julián, who has taken the time to join such a noble mission.”
Helping patients abroad
Commander Barrientos believes helping civilian populations in El Salvador and other nations is a personal responsibility, which is why he’s happily joined the Navy’s aid missions every time he’s been asked.
For example, in June 2014, Commander Barrientos provided health services in the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), a Military exercise held annually in Southeast Asia. The operation helps the U.S. Navy forge close ties with the region’s people and gives medical professionals, like Commander Barrientos, the opportunity to hone their professional skills.
“The poverty in these countries is extreme, and medical services are also impoverished,” Commander Barrientos said of the exercise that included some Naval physicians assisting victims of natural disasters. “They do not have a large infrastructure and there are few specialists. It was very satisfying for us to meet this challenge and to support not only the patients themselves, but entire communities through our knowledge.”