Clinic Delivers Medical Care, Military Skills Training

LILONGWE, Malawi, May 12, 2011 — The nation known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” got a lit­tle warmer here yes­ter­day as U.S. mil­i­tary and Malawi Defense Force mem­bers teamed up for a human­i­tar­i­an civic assis­tance mis­sion and pro­vid­ed free med­ical and den­tal care for hun­dreds of local res­i­dents.

The crowds began arriv­ing hours before the offi­cial open­ing of the MEDREACH 11 clin­ic, with peo­ple of all ages hop­ing for a chance to be seen by a doc­tor, nurse or den­tist. The local health clin­ic locat­ed on the city’s out­skirts buzzed with activ­i­ty as U.S. and Malawi ser­vice mem­bers wel­comed vis­i­tors to the last of three human­i­tar­i­an civic assis­tance out­reach mis­sions con­duct­ed since the exer­cise kicked off May 1.

Work­ing in an open-air tent, Army Sgt. Jef­frey Nie­mi from the Army Reserve’s 399th Com­bat Sup­port Hos­pi­tal soothed a whim­per­ing infant while test­ing her mother’s blood pres­sure. Next door, Army Cols. (Dr.) Beth Mazy­ck and (Dr.) Colleen Khoehn, also mem­bers of the 399th CSH, con­sult­ed with patients suf­fer­ing from malar­ia, abdom­i­nal dis­tress, HIV and oth­er dis­eases and ill­ness­es.

In the adjoin­ing build­ing, Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Joan Sali­do, an Air Force reservist from Wright-Pat­ter­son Air Force Base, Ohio, stud­ied the mouth of an elder­ly woman, prepar­ing to extract the tooth that had caused the woman so much pain for so long.

Across the com­pound, Army Spec. Bri­an Zim­mer­man, a reservist with the 403rd Civ­il Affairs Bat­tal­ion, greet­ed local res­i­dents as they entered a tent to hear a Malawi sol­dier teach them the basics about malar­ia pre­ven­tion and how to get a free mos­qui­to net to take home.

Dur­ing a med­ical readi­ness edu­ca­tion and train­ing exer­cise held across town at the Lions Sight First Eye Hos­pi­tal, Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Dar­rell “Casey” Carl­ton from Wom­ack Army Med­ical Cen­ter at Fort Bragg, N.C., prepped a 78-year-old man for cataract surgery that would restore the vision the man had lost years before.

By the day’s end, the num­bers spoke for them­selves. Six-hun­dred patients received med­ical care at today’s clin­ic, bring­ing the total num­ber of patients served dur­ing three out­reach mis­sions to almost 1,600. Anoth­er 147 patients received den­tal care today, bring­ing the total since May 5 to 511. And anoth­er 308 patients had cataract surg­eries; about 50 per day since the oph­thal­mol­o­gy team hit the ground here May 3.

“We’ve exceed­ed all our expec­ta­tions,” declared Army Lt. Col. Ronald Zessin of the Illi­nois Nation­al Guard’s 404th Maneu­ver Enhance­ment Brigade, serv­ing as the U.S. exer­cise com­man­der. “Even with our most-pos­i­tive expec­ta­tions, we just weren’t expect­ing this kind of out­come.”

MEDREACH 11 pro­motes inter­op­er­abil­i­ty between the U.S. and Malawi mil­i­taries and increas­es both coun­tries’ med­ical capa­bil­i­ties. “Coop­er­a­tion in the mil­i­tary is very impor­tant,” said Malawi Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Alfred Chit­sa Ban­da, an internist over­see­ing the HCA out­reach clin­ic. “We have dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences in our careers, and we can learn from each oth­er.”

Ban­da cit­ed com­bat med­i­cine skills the U.S. mil­i­tary has honed dur­ing oper­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said his troops would like to learn from them as they deploy about 850 sol­diers for a peace­keep­ing mis­sion in Ivory Coast.

But Army Capt. War­ren McTer­nan, a nurse with the 399th CSH, empha­sized that the train­ing goes both ways. “They teach us trop­i­cal med­i­cine and how they treat their patients,” he said. “I think we’re learn­ing more from them than they are learn­ing from us.”

“You see dis­eases here you would nev­er see in the states,” includ­ing yel­low fever, malar­ia and measles, agreed Army Maj. Kevin Mur­phy, a 399th CSH nurse tak­ing blood-pres­sure read­ings at the clin­ic.

“Get­ting this expo­sure and infor­ma­tion exchange is real­ly valu­able,” he said. “It helps make you ready for the next pos­si­ble deploy­ments.” Mean­while, Army Brig. Gen. Robert Pratt, com­man­der of the 404th Maneu­ver Enhance­ment Brigade that is pro­vid­ing com­mand and con­trol for the mis­sion, said MEDREACH 11 is rein­forc­ing the skills need­ed to plan and con­duct joint, com­bined oper­a­tions.

The 100 U.S. par­tic­i­pants in the exer­cise hail pre­dom­i­nant­ly from the Army Reserve and Nation­al Guard, but par­tic­i­pants also include a small con­tin­gent of Air Force Reserve den­tists. In addi­tion, active-duty Army oph­thal­mol­o­gists are con­duct­ing the eye surgery clin­ic. Pratt said the high­ly decen­tral­ized oper­a­tion encour­ages junior lead­ers to step up to take respon­si­bil­i­ty far exceed­ing their pay grades as they work with their host-nation coun­ter­parts.

“We learn from each oth­er, and what’s being learned here will make every­body stronger,” Pratt said. “It will make bet­ter teams and bet­ter lead­ers.” MEDREACH 11 par­tic­i­pants report it’s some of the most sat­is­fy­ing train­ing they’ve ever had.

“This is real­ly grat­i­fy­ing work,” agreed Sali­do, as she pre­pared for a tooth extrac­tion. “It feels great being able to deliv­er access to peo­ple who have very lim­it­ed access to care.”

Zim­mer­man said he shot up his hand with­out hes­i­ta­tion when the 403rd Civ­il Affairs Bat­tal­ion in Syra­cuse, N.Y., asked for vol­un­teers for the mis­sion. “This is mean­ing­ful,” he said. “We are doing some­thing impor­tant and we are help­ing peo­ple. The expe­ri­ence we’ve got­ten from this has been amaz­ing.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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