LAGUNA, Philippines - The norm was long, hot and humid days and thousands of patients flocking through makeshift treatment rooms in school buildings.
But the personal reward of being able to help those who were ailing and who truly needed their assistance was what kept the joint group of medical professionals from the Philippines and U.S. forces going through a four-day medical mission.
A joint group of medical professionals with the Guam Army National Guard (GUARNG) Medical Detachment (MEDDET) returned home last week after spending several days in the Philippines supporting Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) medical teams and local health officials in treating more than 12,800 residents.
The mission was part of a Medical Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) that has been on-going between the two forces over the last few years.
Members of the GUARNG MEDDET have been participating in SMEEs conducted through the State Partnership Program (SPP) in support of the Phillipines armed forces.
However, this was the first time the Guam Guard medical unit has conducted a SMEE over a four-day period, according to Maj. Sheila Compton-Rivo, the medical team’s commander.
"The reception has been great. We've had a lot of good cooperation from the local organizations and mayor’s office. Local government organizations have been very welcoming to us and have brought (health) providers to help us," Compton-Rivo said.
The joint team visited four locations in the cities of San Pedro and Binan, both in the province of Laguna, about an hour's drive north of the Philippine capital city of Manila.
The team from Guam was a joint group, with 26 medical professionals from the GUARNG Medical Detachment, including doctors, nurses and other medical staff, with support staff from the GUARNG Element and 105th Troop Command. Joining them were four medical professionals from the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam and eight from the 624th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, U.S. Air Force Reserve, based in Hawaii.
The types of treatment provided to the residents at both towns included dental procedures, family medical consultations, minor surgeries, circumcisions and vision exams. Following the vision exams, reading glasses, sunglasses and eye drops were given to the patients.
It was the first medical mission ever for HM3 Milquella Otero from the U.S. Navy Hospital Guam.
"It's been an eye opener to see how many people come out to these things and appreciate all the help that we give them. And I can't wait to do it again. It's been four days of hard, hard work and I love it," Otero said.
She said her other shipmates were, like her, excited to be part of the mission. And despite the hard work and exhaustion at the end of the day, she said they wake up the next day wanting to do it again.
"It's very rewarding. I'm a corpsman. I love taking care of people. This is what I love to do and this is why I do it," Otero added.
Volunteers from a variety of local health care-related organizations joined in the combined medical mission at both locations. These included the Perpetual Help College, which brought its clinical instructors and nursing students, and local health professionals. In Biñan, the city's Emergency Response Unit (ERU) was also key to preparing the sites by clearing the rooms, setting up chairs and tables from the mayor's office, cleaning up and transferring equipment to the second site. They were also on standby at all times to assist in operations.
Biñan Central Elementary School Principal Jovito M. Barcenas, said the joint medical mission has been a great help to the residents of the city.
"Most especially (for) those who are old and do not have enough money to visit the doctors for their check-up, it's a great help," Barcenas said.
He said his teachers and staff members were more than willing to assist and give their time for the medical mission at his school, which was held on a national holiday.
"I know that some of them had a lot of reservations because it was a holiday. But for the sake of our community, we need to serve the people," he said. Barcenas noted that from his staff's point of view, the overall health of the residents also affects the school in some way.
At all the medical mission sites, the combined medical team started treating residents from about 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Missions like these, conducted through the SPP, help strengthen positive relations between the Republic of the Philippines and the U.S.
The SPP is a Department of Defense sponsored program administered by the National Guard Bureau (NGB), partnering Guard units from different states with selected countries for nation building, among other projects. The Philippines is the Guam Guard's partner state.