SC National Guard provides health care education in South America
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Army and Air National Guard medical personnel conducted a real-world humanitarian medical mission in the remote town of Tamana, Colombia last weekend.
A release from the 196th Fighter Wing says approximately 30 members of the South Carolina National Guard were participating in medical exercises from Aug. 30 to Sept. 10. They say the exercises provide training opportunities with South Carolina’s state partner, the Republic of Colombia, in realistic combat search and rescue missions as well as humanitarian aid and disaster response scenarios such as earthquakes and tsunamis.
“This whole exercise is about relationships and we’ve not only made relationships with our partners in the Colombian Air Force but we’ve also made partners with half a dozen civilian agencies and physicians in this community. I call it ‘Band-Aids not bullets diplomacy’ and we absolutely accomplished that today,” U.S. Air Force Col. (Dr.) Phillip Latham said.
On Sept. 4, seven Swamp Fox doctors and med techs from the 169th Medical Group teamed up with three medics from the South Carolina Army National Guard to venture out into the tropical rainforest for a community medical support mission.
“This is why we are here,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Chris Collins said. “We have training, we have education, we have gifts that we are able to give back to the community whether at home or here. I always feel like we get more out of it than the people we are helping.”
Collins is a dentist with the 169th Medical Group.
The South Carolina National Guard says just getting to Tamana, Colombia was a challenge. The medical team joined Colombian military and civilian medical personnel plus a news crew from a Medellin television station and departed the Colombian Air Force base in Rionegro on a Colombian Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft.
After travelling north for an hour, the plane landed at a remote airstrip where everyone boarded Colombian Air Force UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and flew to an elementary school about 20 minutes away.
“It makes you appreciate what you have. And they do seem appreciative for whatever you can do,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Vanessa Wideman said.
In the span of a few hours, South Carolina National Guard medical personnel provided dental, optical, dermatology, pharmacy and general medical care to 526 local Colombians.
At the end of a very long day, everyone safely arrived back in Rionegro tired but in good spirits, The 196 Fighter Wing said in their release.
“The personal rewards far exceed anything I could have ever expected. You just can’t measure the rewarding feeling you get when you help people like this. It was absolutely amazing and so rewarding for everybody. I had one of our Airmen tell me this one day makes the entire TDY. [The Colombian] people were very appreciative. The challenge was met by everyone in this group and we finished strong,” Latham said.
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