Doctors Double Mitch Relief Impact With Airlifts
By Pfc. Chrishaun Peeler
American Forces Press Service
SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, Nov. 24, 1998 For three weeks, the Joint Task Force-Bravo Medical Element has braved raging rivers and rock slides to treat thousands of Hondurans isolated by Hurricane Mitch in early November.
Often faced with impassable roads, the team has had to use alternate routes to their destinations. With travel times one-way averaging four hours, team members have parked their vehicles and taken to the air in helicopters.
"It's the way to go," said medical mission leader 1st Lt. Dwight Berry. "You get there quicker and treat more people." They're able to spend up to eight hours in a village if they fly, but only about four if they drive, he noted.
"We're going to villages that really need help," Berry said. "A lot of the villages are in the mountains and have no medical aid, so we're trying to do what we can."
Safety is another reason to fly, according to Pfc. Robert Moore. "Sometimes we have to turn around and find other routes because roads are washed out and blocked, or bridges are down. Riding in Chinooks or Black Hawks increases our safety." Moore is an 82nd Airborne Division translator from Fort Bragg, N.C.
Capt. Miguel Aponte, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot with Company C, 159th Aviation Regiment, Fort Bragg, said he's proud to provide the transportation. "It's an important mission," he said. "We're getting the medics where they need to be so they can help people in need. I hope we can keep doing a great job. Getting the mission done, that's what it's all about."
"I'm glad to have the opportunity to do my part to help. It's a great feeling," said Army Dr. (Capt.) Gail Glushko, a medical element flight surgeon. She said the two most common illnesses she's seen are diarrhea and respiratory infections, primarily due to poor sanitation in areas where residents get their water from mountain creeks and streams.
"We go to different villages every day, leaving around 6 a.m. and returning around 7 p.m.," said Air Force Dr. (Capt.) Mark Luff, a family practice doctor with the 24th Medical Group of Howard Air Force Base, Panama. "These people have a lot of medical problems, but we can only address their two biggest problems. We are used to doing total care, but we can't in this environment, because there are so many people."
The Army and Air Force medical team evaluates up to 200 people a day and has treated almost 3,000 to date.
Total delivery statistics for the Hurricane Mitch relief effort, as of Nov. 22, 1998:
121,000 pounds of medical supplies
2,832,700 pounds of food
667,500 pounds of clothing, mattresses, plastic tarps, diapers and other relief supplies
103,400 gallons of water
2,202 people moved
2,914 people treated medically
184 fixed-wing airlift missions
395 helicopter airlift missions
[Pfc. Chrishaun Peeler is assigned to the 49th Public Affairs Detachment (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C., and a member of the U.S. military relief mission in Honduras.]