SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-B), located on Soto Cano Air Base (SCAB), Honduras, executes numerous medical missions every year across Central America (CENTAM) and other countries as directed by U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). Since 2012, the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) has manned the medical assets deployed to JTF-B, not only to provide Title X care to service members stationed on SCAB, but also to execute operational medical missions within the Joint Operating Area (JOA) in order to strengthen regional partnerships and support the combatant command and JTF-B commanders’ lines of effort.
Most medical missions conducted fall under the title of Global Health Engagements (GHEs) within the Department of Defense’s Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA) programs. These GHEs include: General Medical Readiness Training Exercises (MEDRETEs), Surgical Readiness Training Exercises (SURGRETEs), Dental Readiness Exercises (DENTRETEs), and Veterinarian Readiness Training Exercises (VETRETEs).
In FY22, with medical personnel assigned to the 256th Field Hospital Det. 2 and Det. 3, based out of Twinsburg, Ohio, JTF-B conducted 13 MEDRETES with 9,229 patients, 7 SURGRETES with 65 surgeries, and 8 VETRETES serving 8,304 livestock.
In January 2023, the 807th MC(DS) Deputy Commanding General for Operations, Brig. Gen. Michael Pyle, visited medical personnel deployed to JTF-B under the 807th, including the 256th Field Hospital Det. 3, the 12th Preventive Medicine Det., and the 445th Veterinarian Det. Pyle was able to see members of these units execute a MEDRETE conducted in the Olancho region of Honduras.
The command team for the Olancho MEDRETE was 1st Lt. Skye Shafer, from the 256th Field Hospital Det. 3 and assigned to the JTF-B Surgeon Cell, and Master Sgt. Bernice Branch, an active-duty Air Force medical planner assigned to the JTF-B J3/5 section supporting the JTF-B Surgeon Cell.
“Through collaboration with the Olancho’s Ministry of Health, Ciudad Mujer, Copeco and the Honduran Red Cross, a strengthened bond was formed. There was an increase in awareness of the U.S.’s support and humanitarian efforts to the Honduran people. U.S. service members’ readiness levels also increased by utilizing their skills and education to complete assigned tasks. Host nation readiness was increased by collaboration with the U.S. on the completion of a successful MEDRETE,” said Shafer.
The Olancho MEDRETE mission was conducted over three days in the communities of Jutiquile and Mamisaca, Honduras. Patient flow through the MEDRETE after COVID-19 screening started with a preventative medicine station in which a group of attendees received a patient education class in personal hygiene, water safety, and preventing common illnesses. Antiparasitic medications were provided, along with vitamins, toothbrushes, and soap. A preventative dentistry class was also given covering oral hygiene.
A triage area was staffed with medics and nurses where patient vital signs, children’s weights, chief complaints, and assessment information were gathered. Physicians were available to assess, diagnose, and order needed medications for patients based on the available formulary. The pharmacy was then able to dispense medications that are often unavailable in such rural areas of Honduras. A dental station was also available at the MEDRETE, and dentists were able to extract teeth if needed or perform simple restorative needs such as fillings for cavities.
This three-day mission was able to provide care for 1,253 patients in these two rural Honduran communities.
One of the training benefits for members of the 807th MC(DS) in conducting MEDRETES for JTF-B is in learning how to work with partner nation organizations and host nation military. The Olancho MEDRETE mission was supported by the Olancho Ministry of Health, Ciudad Mujer, the Honduran Red Cross, and Copeco (the host nation equivalent of FEMA). These organizations worked alongside U.S. military to help serve the patient population through providing OB/GYN, psychology, and law services, as well as providing needed translation services.
Another great opportunity for medical assets from the 807th MC(DS) deployed to JTF-B is to work in a joint environment with personnel from all components and branches in an operational setting. This MEDRETE utilized two medical planners, two Honduran medical officers assigned to the JTF-B Surgeon Cell, two preventative medicine personnel, eleven field hospital personnel, four military police, one public affairs officer, one Women Peace Security representative and six civil affairs personnel.
Global Health Engagements such as these are planned through the JTF-B Surgeon Cell, which was staffed by members of the 256th Field Hospital Det. 3 working closely with JTF-B J3, the SOUTHCOM HCA Program Manager, and the Field Hospital Logistics OIC. Global Health Engagements help DoD and SOUTHCOM build teams, strengthen partnerships, and increase preparedness for humanitarian assistance and foreign disaster relief.
The JTF-B Command Surgeon for the Olancho MEDRETE, Lt. Col. Anna Rhodes from the 256th FH Det 3, shared that another benefit for members of the 807th MC(DS) supporting JTF-B is the personal reward they feel when serving others and connecting with the grateful and beautiful Honduran people. “Not only do we as Army Reserve medical assets get to utilize our training and skills on planning and executing these missions, but we get to share with and open our hearts to supporting people in the partner nation.”