A two-day Medical Readiness and Training Exercise, or MEDRETE, concluded in Costa Rica September 12,  2009 after bringing necessary medical care and supplies to more than 375 villagers from the remote Turrialba region of this Central American nation.

Just before dawn breaks at the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, U.S. Army
Capt. John Osterman, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Bill Flores, and Army Lt. Col. Curtis Anderson finalize the airlift
plan for three Blackhawk helicopters supporting the Medical Readiness and Training Exercise in the remote
Turrialba region of Costa Rica, Central America.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Mike Hammond)

A combined team of more than 30 representatives of Joint Task Force-Bravo — a joint United States military unit comprised of approximately 500-600 U.S. Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors based at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras — and the Costa Rican Ministry of Health delivered the care and supplies after months of planning and coordination.

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A U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter circles as it approaches the landing zone to pick up
people and supplies returning from medical operations in remote, mountainous Costa Rica.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Mike Hammond)

Treating ailments ranging from cold and flu-like symptoms to chronic bronchitis and early stages of pneumonia, the U.S. and Costa Rican medics also offered preventive medicine education, vitamins and immunizations to patients.

The acting U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, Charge’d’ Affairs Peter Brennan, visited the site of the MEDRETE on its second day.

“We at the Embassy conduct official diplomacy and try to also reach out to society in general. But efforts like this reach out directly to people in needy communities – getting to people where they live,” Mr. Brennan said. “In the end, that’s what helps people appreciate the United States more and see that we truly care about their health and education. It shows that the democratic system does deliver the goods.”

At the request of the Costa Rican government and in coordination with the U.S. Embassy, the U.S. Military Group, and the Costa Rican Ministry of Health, Joint Task Force-Bravo sent medical and command and control members, three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and crews, and one CH-47 Chinook helicopter and its crew to aid in the effort to reach populations unreachable by road since massive flooding destroyed a key bridge last year.

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TOLOKICHA, Costa Rica — A Costa Rican man helps carry medical supplies from the
Costa Rica Ministry of Health out of a U.S. Army HH-60 Blackhawk on Sept. 11, 2009.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Mike Hammond).

Residents of the area came from miles around to see healthcare providers from the Ministry of Health and JTF-B. Some heard of the opportunity through word-of-mouth advertising and some, like 50-year-old Rafael Martinez, simply heard the two UH-60 Blackhawks approaching. “I heard the helicopter go by and walked for about an hour to see the doctor,” Mr. Martinez said. “It has been at least two years since I saw one.”

Rogelio and Melli Segura and their five children – all under 10 years old – walked an hour and a half up and down mountains to see a doctor for the first time ever. The Seguras, who farm corn for subsistence and are expecting their sixth child, made the long walk after suffering from headaches and other pains for the past five days.

After the whole family received examinations from a physician’s assistant, they left with bottles of Tylenol – medicine that is over-the-counter in places like the United States but considerably harder to come by in a place inaccessible by road and a three day hike from the nearest medical care.

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TOLOKICHA, Costa Rica — Air Force 1st Lt. Adam Bailey, a physician’s assistant assigned
to JTF-Bravo’s Medical Element and Tatiana Serrano, a translator from the U.S. Military Group
at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica examine patients in this remote area.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Mike Hammond)

“We value enormously the activities and materials Joint Task Force-Bravo brings to the effort, but especially the spirit and partnership evident through the coordination between the various agencies involved,” the acting Ambassador said. “A mission like this helps us develop further close links and goodwill between nations.”

source: Joint Task Force-Bravo, U.S. Southern Command

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