By Capt. Steve Burgess, Physician Assistant, 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published April 04, 2009
BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Massachusetts -- On February 24, 2009 three members of the 104th Medical Group teamed up with three Mass. Army National Guard Medical Command members and a Flight Surgeon from the 102nd Intelligence Wing for a brief but highly successful medical mission to Paraguay.
Lt. Col. Theodore Rockwell a dentist, Capt Steve Burgess, a Physician Assistant and SSgt Meredith Munroe a Dental Assistant from 104th Fighter Wing worked alongside Paraguayan military doctors and dentists during a two-day medical capability mission in the rural community of Capitan Mesa.
The event planning and logistical support was provided primarily by an Active Duty Army Civil Affairs Team in conjunction with the U.S. Consulate. The Mass. National Guard was tasked for the mission as Massachusetts and Paraguay have established a State Partnership Program. A day after the18 hour flight, the group traveled 10 hours via a convoy to a needy rural community and set up a temporary clinic in a local high school. Throughout the two day event, free care was provided to approximately 2,500 patients in multiple specialties including dentistry, primary care, gynecological care, ophthalmology and pediatrics. An impromptu pharmacy dispensed thousands of free medications and thousands of vaccinations/antiparacitics were administered.
This mission was truly the first of its kind in many ways. The Paraguayan military medical community had never traveled to a remote area to provide care. Likewise, this was a unique opportunity for the Mass. National Guard and U.S. military in general. We were able to work with our Paraguayan medical counterparts and their citizens during a peacetime mission that was a prime example of our military's potential to not only support, but also supplement allies and developing nations. The mission was successful in utilizing U.S. resources to assist the Paraguayan military to demonstrate their capabilities to their citizens. The entire U.S. team overcame challenges as they arose to include providing care through language barriers both in Spanish, but also the indigent language of Guarani.
Lt. Col. Rockwell brought along personal dental equipment and supplies that were quickly adopted by his Paraguayan counterparts for the remainder of the mission. Lt. Col. Rockwell and Staff Sgt. Munroe didn't seem to miss the equipment as they had plenty of work performing hundreds of tooth extractions. Capt. Burgess worked alongside a Paraguayan Pediatrician and together they saw or screened over 700 patients during the weekend.
To all of us the trip was a success, both personally and professionally. Positive feedback was immediately received by the U.S. consulate and future missions including support from the 104th Medical Group are already tentatively planned. Aside from the political ties that were strengthened during the mission, the three of us were privileged enough to give something to a needy community and receive appreciation which needed no translation.