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Reservists overcome challenges of going to Guatemala

COBAN, Guatemala -- The 10-day medical training exercise to Guatemala in April presented several challenges for reservists from Air Force Reserve Command’s 710th Medical Squadron at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

Squadron medical planner Maj. Jerry Hall, nurse Capt. Kami Willet and health services specialist Master Sgt. Debbie Bernhardt started planning the MEDRETE deployment eight months earlier. They coordinated those plans with medical planners from Headquarters AFRC and U.S. Southern Command as well as Maj. Frank Ferarro, U.S. Military Group medical planner from the Guatemalan Embassy.

A site survey was completed in February when worksite locations, billeting, food, security forces, water and laundry contracts were made with the Coban community.

“We made a contract with the host nation to improve the barracks to make it livable with mattresses, toilet seats, electricity and hot water for the showers,” said Major Hall. “The cost of improving the barracks was less money than we would have spent on hotels. It’s a more secure location, and we were able to leave the improvements for the Guatemalan Army.”

Security, patient accessibility, electricity, running water and outhouses all contributed to selecting the worksite locations.

Another challenge facing the reservists was the language of the people.

“I’m fluent in Spanish, but there are 23 dialects of the native Mayan Q`eqchi`,” said Tech Sgt. Carlos Huete, 710th MDS public health technician. “So, sometimes it takes three translators to translate from English to Spanish, Spanish to Q`eqchi and then to Q`eqcha another dialect of the native language.”

The reservists were able to overcome these and other challenges in order to treat 8,505 Guatemalans with medical, optometry and dental care needs.