TAGHJIJT, Morocco --
The value of acute medical and dental care can often be taken for granted for those fortunate to have access to basic care. But for those who lack such access, even the simplest medical procedures become a difficult hurdle to overcome.
In an effort to put Moroccan citizens face-to-face with Americans displaying compassion and to relieve human suffering, more than 30 U.S. personnel from various components of all four branches of the Department of Defense conducted humanitarian civic action projects in the Guelmim Province as part of exercise African Lion 2008.
According to Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Byrd, expeditionary medical group commander and Spokane, Wash. resident, the HCA team was able to provide basic medical and dental care in more than 9,000 patient encounters during a six-day period visiting six rural sights throughout the province.
The majority of the U.S. personnel are members of the Utah Air National Guard, although the team also had Marine Corps communications specialists, Navy dentists and dental technicians, Louisiana National Guard translators, Air Force Reserve physicians and active duty optometrists. The Americans were also joined by more than 35 Moroccan medical professionals during the bi-lateral training and HCA portions of the exercise.
“Utah and Morocco are partners in peace,” Byrd, a member of the Utah Air National Guard, said. “We are the Partnership State, and this (exercise) provides us an opportunity to provide good will and communicate our concern and care for the Moroccan people and also a desire to work closely with the Moroccan military to promote stability and security here.”
In addition to their role in providing medical and dental care, the exercise African Lion HCA Team was able to participate in bi-lateral training with their Moroccan counterparts.
Byrd said the training allowed both nations the ability to become familiar with each others medical systems. Byrd also said the training was a good chance for the U.S. service members to experience Moroccan culture and gave the team a chance to interface with the Moroccan Ministry of Health.
“This has been a shared learning experience for both forces,” Byrd said.
According to Byrd, in addition to the other areas of specialty, optometry has been an important element of the medical care provided, as more than 4,000 pairs of prescription glasses were distributed throughout the exercise.
“A lot of these people are artisans and depend on their eyesight for their livelihood,” said Tech. Sgt. Micah Myers, a medic with the 151st Medical Group, Utah Air National Guard and Salt Lake City resident. “The environmental factors out here such as bright sun and dust can complicate things even worse. With the donated glasses we have, we can get close to what they need, and that make a big impact on their quality of life.”
In addition to the optometric care provided, Byrd said the joint Air Force, Navy dental team was able to make a significant impact in the quality of life for the Moroccans here.
“(This exercise) has not only given us the opportunity to make an impression on someone, but we can really do a lot to affect their well being,” said Seaman Cody Banks, hospital corpsman with 4th Dental Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group and Gloucester City, N.J. resident. “It’s like the old thorn in the lions paw; a minor tooth problem can become extremely painful. If we can come in here and give them a relatively simple solution, we can make that pain go away and it has a major impact on them.”
Overall, the service members here said the exercise was an excellent opportunity not only to provide care for those in need, but to also enhance their own ability to operate in joint and bi-lateral environments.
Bryd said the work accomplished here not only improved lives, but worked to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Morocco, as both countries share a long history of friendship and cooperation.
“Theater security cooperation involves operations the include weapons,” Byrd said. “These medications and our time are the weapons we use to communicate to the Moroccans the good will and peaceful intentions of the U.S. as we work to continue our friendship and strengthen our bonds.”