81st Medical Group deploys to Belize

  • Published
  • By Steve Pivnick
  • 81st Medical Group Public Affairs
Thirty-three Keesler medical and dental professionals joined 41 other U.S. Air Force and Canadian military counterparts to participate in a portion of the "New Horizons Belize 2013" medical and dental training exercises conducted in the Central American nation.

The annual training exercise for U.S. military civil engineers, medical and dental professionals prepares participants to deploy, conduct joint operations with partner nations and redeploy back to the United States. The 2013 exercise began in early April and is scheduled to end in late June.

Sixteen Keesler medical personnel participated in a general medicine mission to the towns of Punta Gorda and Dangriga, Belize, April 1-20. Other medics supporting the mission were from Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; Davis-Monthan and Luke AFBs, Ariz.; Joint Base Andrews, Md.; Langley AFB, Va.; and Scott AFB, Ill. They were assisted by four military personnel from the Canadian Forces Health Services.

According to John Henry, team chief for the Maxwell contingent, the team's main objective was to "provide prevention, acute intervention, primary care, optometry, pediatric, obstetrician/gynecology, dermatological and dental services to 500-800 patients daily."

The objective was met with the team averaging 723 patients each day for a total of 7,231seen and treated. The medics disbursed almost 12,500 prescriptions as well.

Maj. Paul Jones, 81st Medical Support Squadron and the Keesler team leader added, "Medical readiness and training exercises are excellent opportunities for our Airmen to fine-tune their military skills, from both medical and leadership perspectives. It is exciting to see relatively junior Airmen, such as Staff Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez, 81st Aerospace Medicine Squadron, step-up to the challenges of being a team non-commissioned officer-in-charge and make a positive impact on those we served. Similarly, it is great for providers who are relatively new to the Air Force as they learn a little more about military medicine. This was the case for Maj. (Dr.) Salah Masry, 81st Medical Operations Squadron Internal Medicine Flight commander, who has been in the Air Force less than a year."

A second Keesler element participated in the exercise from April 20-May 4. Sixteen members of the 81st Dental Squadron and one 81st Medical Support Squadron NCO helped form the dental team - 34 U.S. Air Force personnel from Offutt and Keesler Air Force Bases and two Canadian Army Forces personnel from Canadian Forces Bases Shilo in Manitoba and Petawawa in Ontario - that worked together to provide patient care at the Punta Gorda Hospital annex.

They provided dental services consisting of oral hygiene education, teeth cleanings, fillings, root canals and extractions. The team also provided some partial dentures, known as teeth restorations. By the end of the dental portion, the team had treated more than 1,400 patients and tallied almost 1,950 procedures.

Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Schmidt, 81st DS and dental team superintendent, commented, "Even though the team was put together from different bases and even different countries, they worked so well together from day one. More than 1,400 patients were treated in just 10 days. What a rewarding experience to be able to take care of their dental needs and help them get their smiles back!"

Senior Airman William Cochran, an 81st DS dental laboratory technician, found job satisfaction during his first deployment despite the increased responsibilities.

"Even though the workload was crazy fast and I was working at two-and-a-half times what I would at Keesler, I loved it," said Cochran. "People came to the clinic with no teeth and I essentially was able to give them their life back. I helped give them a brand new smile."
(Tech. Sgt. Tony Tolley, 1st Combat Camera Squadron, contributed to this article)