17 MDG treks to Nicaragua

Master Sgt. Annette Whitenack bandages a Nicaraguan child’s arm during the 17th Medical Group’s mission April 17 to May 3. The team treated more than 5,200 patients during the trip and coordinated with the Nicaraguan military and ministry of health staff members. (Courtesy photo)

Master Sgt. Annette Whitenack bandages a Nicaraguan child’s arm during the 17th Medical Group’s mission April 17 to May 3. The team treated more than 5,200 patients during the trip and coordinated with the Nicaraguan military and ministry of health staff members. (Courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Air Force medical personnel respond to emergencies all over the world, and the 17th Medical Group at Goodfellow Air Force Base is no exception.

From April 17 to May 3, a team of doctors and medical personnel, led by Lt. Col. George Jones, 17th Medical Operations Squadron commander, traveled to Nicaragua on a joint medical training mission with Nicaraguan military and ministry of health staff.

"What a privilege to lead this team of medics," Lt. Col. Jones said. The team comprised Lt. Col. Jones, Maj. Paul Schroth, Captains Lindsay Peck, Tim McDowell and Iris Ortiz-Gonzalez, Master Sgt. Annette Whitenack, Tech. Sergeants Patricia Cook, Charles Colston and Karen Harr, Staff Sgt. Carmeilla Bethay and Airman 1st Class LaToya Simples from Goodfellow.

Also on the team were Col. Kathleen Elmer and Captains Robert Holms and William Pomeroy from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and Maj. Michelle Gonzales from Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

"We were able to treat more than 5,200 patients, provide more than 500 pairs of glasses, remove more than 300 diseased teeth and dispense more than 26,000 medications," Lt. Col. Jones said. "The team did an outstanding job adapting to an austere environment and delivering quality care."

Among the patients seen were 1,610 children.

"Seeing the smiles on those little kids' faces, and on their parents' faces, when we were able to help them was the best part of the mission," Sergeant Harr, who, with Maj. Schroth, worked on the pediatrics portion of the mission.

"We had the usual ear infections, colds and coughs, but also skin conditions, communicable diseases and burns," she added. "It was entirely a new experience for me."

"It was a wonderful feeling to see a line of 400 people each day, and knowing we wouldn't leave until we were done," added Capt. McDowell, the pharmacist. "Pharmacy had a unique role, because you can't provide health care to this many people without medications. I was extremely pleased to have gone," he added. "Though our pharmacy technicians are extremely well-trained, it was nice to be there as a pharmacist - there's a lot of safety concerns."

"We did as much as we could in the 10-day span," said Sergeant Colston, who worked optometry along with Capt. Peck. The optometry team saw more than 700 patients, passing out glasses and treating eye infections. "It was great to know that people were able to carry on their day-to-day life with the glasses we gave them."

"I would volunteer again in a heartbeat," Sergeant Harr said. "It was a great crew: we all got along, we had everything we needed, everything was well-organized and there was a lot of support from the Nicaraguan side."

Capt. McDowell agreed, recommending the mission to anyone else.

"Be prepared to work hard," he said. "The days are long, with no breaks and no weekends, but you don't mind doing it. You almost want to stay a few more hours to make sure everyone is seen."

"These Airmen successfully applied their skills and training in a field setting and are now prepared to meet any contingency," Lt. Col. Jones said. "The wing commander's wisdom and foresight in supporting these medical training missions is validated by improved relations with Nicaragua and mission-ready Airmen with vital experience."