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NEWS | July 12, 2012

Vermont Air National Guard members among U.S. service members providing humanitarian aid in Senegal

By Lance Cpl. Jessica DeRose, U.S. Marine Corps Marine Forces Reserve

THIES, Senegal - Hundreds of local villagers lined up to receive medical care from U.S. forces and medics from the armed forces of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Gambia outside the hospital here, July 11.

From July 10 - July 17, U.S. forces will be working alongside partner African nations to provide humanitarian civil assistance in the area. On the first day - a half day - the clinic treated more than 175 patients.

"It's a great opportunity," said Air Force Capt. Jason Galipeau, the project officer with the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard. "It feels great. It is something that will stick with [the service members] through their whole career."

The medical care that the Senegalese are receiving is part of Exercise Western Accord, a multi-lateral exercise with Senegalese and several other West Africa nations.

Thirty-two medical personnel came from all over the U.S. prepared to treat 3,000 patients in Senegal. Along with providing medical care, they hope to provide and share their knowledge, as well as help the Senegalese improve their own medical process.

"It's a pleasure to be here," said Air Force Capt. Tracie Pilbin, a nurse with the 158th Fighter Wing. "The Senegalese are a very friendly people, and I think it's great we're able to be here and support their military and their civilians."

The physicians find that the Senegalese are mainly being treated for things such as diabetes, digestive issues and malaria. The U.S. is offering care in a triage-and-treat method, which involves an initial consultation with a doctor followed up by a trip to the dentist or a doctor to address specific needs.

Each U.S. physician is partnered with a medic from another nation with the understanding that they are only there to help when necessary.

"The medicine is good," said Gambian Sgt. Dembo Saidy, a pharmacist with the Gambian National Army. "We have teamwork; we love and respect one another."

It is a goal of the U.S. to help augment the care that the locals are already used to receiving, officials said.

"The purpose is to build the capabilities they have now and to work side-by-side to enhance the procedures they already have so when we leave they can continue the procedures," said Galipeau.

Medical sustainment after the U.S. departs is a major goal in the process, and upon their departure, the U.S. will be leaving all their medicines and knowledge behind. Along with the gift of medicine, the U.S. is trying to teach the Senegalese the benefits of preventative medicine.

The average life expectancy of a villager here is in their mid-50s and their infant mortality rate is much higher than that of the U.S., Galipeau said. The medics are stressing the use of preventative medicine, especially in children, to try and overcome these numbers.

The Americans are not the only ones learning valuable information during the exercise though.

Senegalese medics are much more knowledgeable on diseases such as malaria than the medics from the U.S., and they deal with tooth extractions on a daily basis, Galipeau said.

"We learn as much from them as they learn from us," he said.

The hospital expects to treat about 200 patients daily. Once they shut down for the day, patients who haven't been seen are sent home with a ticket guaranteeing them a spot at the front of the line the next day. Once U.S. forces go home, the patients will continue on with their normal medical care and they will be given a prescription for follow-up care.

"They may not have the supplies and equipment that we do [back home]," said Galipeau, "but they're doing the best they can do with what they have. They save lives every day."

Western Accord 2012 focuses on various types of military training to include: live-fire training, peacekeeping operations, intelligence capacity building, command post, and disaster response training. The exercise is coordinated by Marine Forces Africa and runs from June 26 - July 24.

More than 600 U.S. service members and approximately 600 members of the Armed Forces of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Gambia and France are scheduled to participate.

The Vermont National Guard is a partner state with the Republic of Senegal through the national Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program.



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