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U.S. Military Support Continues in Chile

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2010 – U.S. military support to relief efforts in Chile continues in the wake of a magnitude 8.8 earthquake that struck the country Feb. 27.

"U.S. military personnel have been working with local and international responders to provide relief to the hard-hit areas," Air Force Col. Byron Mathewson, commander of U.S. military forces deployed to Chile, said during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable yesterday.

Shortly after the earthquake, the Chilean government requested support from the U.S. military, which provided two C-130 transport aircraft, naval assessment experts and an expeditionary medical support team.

"They needed help with some specific challenges," Mathewson said. The U.S. team began operations March 7.

The C-130s were brought in to augment the Chilean air force's air bridge of relief supplies. In seven days, the colonel said, the U.S. team completed 17 missions and flew more than 37 hours evacuating 205 Chileans and moving more than 300,000 pounds of cargo in support of the relief efforts.

"The airmen worked closely with the Chilean air force throughout their deployment to integrate into their flight schedule and move the appropriate cargo and passengers," Mathewson said.

U.S. Navy experts also provided the Chilean navy with assessments of the shipyard and naval base at Talcahuano. The team, composed of 12 sailors and civilians from various commands, was able to provide damage assessment and determine what capabilities were needed to repair the base and the shipyard.

“They were quickly able to integrate with the Chilean navy's assessment teams, providing a fresh set of eyes and offering their expertise,” Mathewson said.

One of the larger tasks in Chile was building a mobile hospital in the city of Angol after one of the major regional hospitals was deemed structurally unsound.

“Prior to that expeditionary hospital's completion, local Chilean medics treated members of the local community in a small clinic or referred them to a nearby hospital some 40 miles away,” he said.

Air Force expeditionary medical support airmen and members of the Chilean army built a new mobile hospital for the community in three-and-a-half days. The hospital is equipped to provide surgical, primary care, pediatric, radiological, gynecologic, laboratory and pharmaceutical services to nearly 110,000 Chileans in that region. Mathewson said the hospital has been operational since March 13.

The medical team performed its first surgery two days after opening, and has since treated more than 55 patients and performed six surgeries.

Mathewson added that the personnel deployed with the medical support unit will work alongside Chilean health professionals until March 26, when the United States will turn the facility over to Chilean officials.

Mathewson said the recent earthquake in Haiti helped the U.S. servicemembers know what to expect in Chile.

"We were able to understand what our role here was and how we could best integrate with the Chileans and help them in their time of need,” he said. "It’s been a truly remarkable experience working alongside the Chileans to bring help to those most in need.

“The U.S. and Chile have a long history of partnership and friendship,” he continued. “We're honored to be a part of this important mission."

(Christen N. McCluney writes for Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity.)

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