‘Beyond the Horizons’ Clinic Fosters Health, Goodwill
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
POCOLA, Guatemala, June 28, 2012 Thousands of local residents in this remote mountain village are getting what for many is one of their first experiences seeing a doctor, nurse or dentist during a five-day medical readiness training exercise being conducted here during Beyond the Horizons 2012.
Army Capt. Gloria Graham, a 352nd Combat Support Hospital, teaches a Guatemalan girl how to properly brush her teeth during a five-day medical readiness training exercise in Pocola, Guatemala, as part of Beyond the Horizon 2012, June 27, 2010. DOD photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
U.S. service members, working hand in hand with Guatemalan doctors and health and agricultural officials and several Canadian and Colombian medical officers, are sponsoring the clinic as part of U.S. Southern Command’s largest annual humanitarian civic assistance mission. This week’s exercise is the third in Guatemala since Beyond the Horizons kicked off in April.
The crowds began assembling yesterday hours before the clinic moved into its third day, forming a line that extended miles beyond the tiny school that had been temporarily converted into a medical clinic. Young and old, all clamored to receive one of the 700 coveted tickets that served as the price of admission to preventive medical classes and sessions with military medical professionals specializing in internal medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, dentistry or optometry.
“We try to increase it each day, to give as much chance for as many people to get seen as possible,” said Army Capt. Sherry Kwon, an Army reservist from the 352nd Combat Support Hospital serving as officer in charge of the clinic. “When you have people willing to come and wait hours and hours for a bag of vitamins, it’s so humbling that you want to do everything you can to help as many as possible.”
The first stop for all patients was a preventive medicine class, where Army Capt. Gloria Graham, a 352nd CSH nurse, reviewed along with a Colombian military doctor the basics about washing hands, boiling water to sanitize it, keeping food, utensils and toilet facilities covered to keep insects away, and practicing oral hygiene.
These lessons are critical in a region where periodontal disease and intestinal parasites are the leading killers, explained Army Sgt. 1st Class John Williams, the 35th Engineer Brigade’s operations noncommissioned officer for the clinic.
Graham periodically strolled to the back of the room to chat in her native Spanish with children seated around a table with sheets torn from a coloring book and crayons in hand. Holding up a poster of a smiling girl, she gave each a chance to demonstrate how to use the toothbrushes she had given them, drawing shy giggles as she gestured the techniques herself.
Across the courtyard, Army Col. Theresa Mercados-Sconzo, a nurse administrator and 352nd CSH battalion commander, and Army Maj. (Dr.) Mike Crownover, an emergency room physician, consulted with a steady flow of patients suffering from vitamin deficiencies, abdominal issues, worms and other ailments.
Meanwhile, dozens of people waited outside the busiest clinic, where a team of dentists from the 133rd Medical Company in Colorado and dental technicians from the 185th Dental Company in California performed extractions and minor dental surgeries.
Studying the mouth of an elderly woman, Army Maj. (Dr.) Ricky Harrell, a professor of orthodontics at the University of Colorado, prepared to extract the tooth that had caused the woman so much pain for so long.
In an adjoining room, Army Maj. (Dr.) Jennifer Fiatreau, an active-duty optometrist from Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, evaluated eye tests. In the adjoining room, Army Capt. Brian Kuruc from the 256th CSH kept the pharmacy humming to keep up with the demand for medications.
As they treated one patient after another, the service members said they were overwhelmed by the need for medical care and the appreciation patients extended for care they received.
“What we are seeing here is like nothing we see at home,” said Army Maj. Wayne Musgrove, a registered nurse. “Many of these people have had no or minimal medical care, so they really appreciate what we provide them. You can see how happy they are that we are here.”
“They are simply ecstatic to be getting this care,” echoed Mercados-Sconzo. “They couldn’t be more thankful.”
While providing a vital need, medical readiness training exercises serve as a learning experience for everyone involved, she said.
“They’re getting valuable training, similar to what they would get during a deployment,” she explained, as the exercises involve preparing for the mission and setting up operations in austere conditions. “But it’s also a learning experience across cultures. That’s one of the biggest takeaways: developing understanding and respect for other cultures.”
For Army Spc. Riyaz Jahn, a 352nd CSH medic, knowing the impact he and his fellow service members are able to make on people’s lives makes the mission one of the most satisfying he’s ever experienced.
“This is absolutely awesome. I love this,” he said. “It’s helping out the locals who need help and can’t afford it, and you have the gratification of knowing what this means to the people. You can see it in the kids’ smiles.”
“These missions are very important, and all of us are enthusiastic about coming because we feel like we are making a difference,” agreed Graham. “There’s no question that people appreciate what we are doing.”
Harrell, who joined the military at age 52 and has since deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, said being able to provide a desperately needed service gives him a new perspective on life. “Being a part of this, I know that I’ve helped a few hundred people who wouldn’t otherwise have gotten help,” he said.
Kuruc, who deployed for similar missions in El Salvador in 2004 and Peru in 2007, said he shot up his hand to volunteer to participate in this one. “It’s very humbling to know we are here on a mission that is providing so much for so many people,” he said. “It may be a small band-aid to a big problem, but it’s very rewarding, and that’s why I came back.”
As they take pride in helping others, participants in the medical readiness training exercise said they recognize that they also are conveying an important message about the United States and the U.S. military.
Entertaining the local children as their parents awaited their medical care, Army Master Sgt. Gary Adamek of the Missouri National Guard’s force protection element blew up latex gloves into balloons and drew funny faces on them. He also staged a contest, giving the children plastic trash bags and challenging each to bring back the biggest load of trash strewn across the nearby hillsides to win the loose change Adamek and his fellow soldiers had thrown into a kitty.
“We realize that in everything we do here, we are ambassadors for the United States,” he said. “That’s everything we do -- whether it’s helping get rid of trash, or something as simple as blowing up a balloon.”
“I feel good knowing I am representing the United States,” said Army Spc. Scott Doney, a member of the 304th Engineers who volunteered to support the medical clinic because most of the engineering projects for Beyond the Horizons are now complete. “When I leave here, I want to be able to say that I came here and helped make a difference.”
Army Capt. Kwon said that difference will go a long way in U.S. Southern Command’s efforts to forge a closer, long-term partnership between the United States and Guatemala. “We’re forming a relationship between our two countries, and showing that we are friendly forces,” she said. “We are here to help, working together, united.”