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'Their only help': medics provide quality care to people with no other options.

It's 8:30 p.m. and a group of 14 Air Force Reserve Command medics are sitting out in front of a hooch in Senegal, Africa, trying to cool off from the grind of a 10-hour day.

The temperature is still hovering in the mid 90s, but it seems almost chilly after working in 115-degree heat throughout the day. But no one is complaining because they all volunteered to come to the isolated desert region of Linguere to help people who can't afford basic health care for themselves or their families.



The Reservists teamed up with a battalion of Marine reservists and a handful of Sailors and Soldiers to form Task Force 225 as part of Exercise Shared Accord. The purpose of the joint exercise, which took place June 16-30, was to improve relations between the United Stales and Senegal and provide a training opportunity with members of the Senegalese military, while at the same time providing humanitarian assistance to the local population.

As soon as they arrived, the Air Force Reserve medics saw a steady flow of patients for 10 consecutive days in the hot desert environment of Linguere, centrally located in northern Senegal.

"Our Air Force Reserve physicians provided quality medical care to more than 4.400 Senegalese, many of whom waited for days," said Maj. Melissa Triche, a medical planner for the AFRC international health specialist program. "I'm very proud of the efforts that were put forth by the medics on this team. The care they provided significantly improved the overall health of the local population.


"The experience and expertise that our physicians brought with them saved the lives of several Senegalese during this MEDCAP (Medical Civil Actions Program)," she said. "To me, that spells out a successful mission for all involved."

For the members of the medical team, the mission was a great opportunity to touch the lives of people who in many cases have no other means available to improve their lives.

"It's been a positive experience." said Capt. (Dr.) Jessica Tse, an optometrist with the 349th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, Calif. "It makes everyone reflect on their lives and be grateful for what we have. To be able to improve so many people's lives has been very rewarding. It definitely makes you want to do another mission like this."

For some medics, the trip was their first time participating in a humanitarian mission.

"I've always wanted to do something like this," said Maj. (Dr.) Darin Brimhall, a physician with the 752nd Medical Squadron, March Air Reserve Base. Calif. "Going to regular drill gets dull, and I was looking for an assignment to use my skills to help people. This has rekindled my passion for what my role is in the Air Force."

For many of the patients, treatments that would be considered routine in the United States have been neglected due to the lack of resources.

"I'm amazed that the dental decay rate is so high; periodontal disease is rampant," said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Scott Sayre, a dentist with the 445th Aeromedical Squadron, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. "We've seen some very unusual things that you only see in textbooks or learn about in school.

"We're their only help. If we don't do (the surgical procedures), there's no one else who will, because they don't have the money From that perspective, dental problems become life threatening."

The work of (he medics didn't go unnoticed by the Senegalese medical people and military members working at the clinic.

"I think it's a good thing because some of these people have not enough money to satisfy their needs," Abdouilaye Ndao said with a broken English accent. "This kind of tiling is great for them. Some are suffering and have no way out to serve this problem, but fortunately the American care gives them opportunity to be cured."

Part of every successful mission stems from having a talented team whose members work well together, even when the environment and work conditions are challenging.


"We have a good team, very cohesive," said Maj. (Dr.) Brandon Isaacs, an individual mobilization augmentee flight surgeon assigned to Ellsworth AFB, S.D. "I think we are having more of an impact on the general population because in many cases we are doing life-altering procedures."

Dr. Isaacs performed several minor cosmetic procedures, such as removing lipomas and sebaceous cysts, which will allow the patients to integrate back into their society.

"The general public has such a negative impression on people who have simple benign defects that are cosmetically problematic," Dr. Isaacs said. "They become outcasts in society. Removing the benign lesions allows them to be accepted back into society as normal human beings."

One of the people the doctor treated was a man named Moussa Ba. Dr. Isaacs removed a lipoma from his forehead.

"I feel very good now and happy." Mr. Ba said through an interpreter. "1 was feeling very ashamed because people were looking at me. Now it's gone, and my life is good. It's changed my life."

When Mr. Ba returned days later to have his bandages changed, he told Dr. Isaacs that he told everyone in his village that the doctor was a miracle worker.

While Dr. Isaacs took on the task of performing these minor, yet life-altering, surgeries. Lt. Col. Will Mosier made taking care of premature babies one of his priorities.

Colonel Mosier, an international healthcare specialist with the 459th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Andrews AFB, Md., said his experience in developmental pediatrics provides him the background to serve as a consultant to medical staff on complicated cases such as caring for premature infants without incubators being available.

"A misunderstanding in the U.S. is that infants will die without an incubator, which is not true" Colonel Mosier said. "It's a balance between providing adequate infant stimulation and parent education."

While the medics were busy in Linguere, the Marines were training in Dodji, about 15 miles away, where Capt. Paul Kim. a public health officer from the 86th Contingency Response Group, Ramstein Air Base, Germany, was responsible for sanitation and hygiene.

"It was a great experience where I was able to do what I was trained to do in an austere environment," Captain Kim said. "The Marines and the Navy corpsmen made it possible to keep the training site sanitary. Thanks to their efforts, we had no disease, non-battle injuries."

Also while he was in Dodji. the captain met with the mayor to give him preventive medicine tips in preparation for mosquito season and donated permethrine and Deet (insect repellents) to the training site commandant for his troops to use.

"The exercise was an overwhelming success," said Lt. Col. Michael Froeder. inspection instructor and executive officer for the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines. Garden City, N.Y. "The Senegalese and Marine Corps units integrated seamlessly when they were conducting training. The integration of the other services was outstanding. Each service's unique capabilities complemented each other well.

"Overall, as a task force with personnel and units from all over the country, we've conducted an exercise in an arduous environment in a safe manner while providing a great deal of humanitarian assistance to those in need."

(Sergeant Rabin is a traditional Reservist assigned to the 920th Rescue Wing public affairs office at Patrick AFB, Fla. He deployed to Senegal us a member of the Air Force Reserve medical team.)

Story and photos by Master Sgt. Chance C. Babin
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Babin, Chance C.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Oct 1, 2007
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