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NEWS | Aug. 4, 2015

New Horizons medical team supports exercise personnel and Hondurans

By Capt. David J. Murphy 1st Combat Camera Squadron

New Horizons Honduras 2015 training exercise medical personnel have provided medical support to exercise personnel and Hondurans since June 2015 and will continue to do so until early August.

The 15-person medical team is made up of a general surgeon, anesthesiologist, operating room nurse, emergency medicine provider, biomedical equipment technician and 10 emergency medical technicians. The team's primary mission is to support all exercise personnel with point-of-injury immediate care before transfer to a main mobile forward surgical team.

"If someone gets injured here on the construction or well site we can provide immediate treatment to include self-aid buddy care, and IVs and intubation," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Milner, 341st Medical Operations Squadron, 341st Medical Group, out of Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mo., "and once we stabilize the patient, we can transport them, via ambulance, to the hospital where they will receive follow-on care."

While the medical team supported all New Horizons personnel, their main mission was to provide support to the U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Fla., and U.S. Marines from the 271st Marine Wing Support Squadron from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., during the construction of the new two-classroom schoolhouse in Ocotes Alto and the wells in both Honduras Aguan and Brisas del Mar.

The team's secondary mission is humanitarian in nature and has involved medical support to the Hondurans in the Dr. Salvador Paredes Hospital in downtown Trujillo in both the operating and emergency rooms.

"To date we've probably had about 100 surgical cases and consults and in the emergency room we've probably seen about 600 patients," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Norman Zellers, 60th Medical Operations Squadron, 60th Medical Group medical physician assistant, from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., "by the time we leave here we should have seen about 800 patients total."

Zellers is in charge of the emergency room but the team's surgeon, anesthesiologist and operating room nurse support operating room activities.

"We've done a pretty wide breadth of surgeries at this point," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan Jones, 56th Medical Operations Squadron general surgeon from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., "anywhere from amputation to hernia repair to gall bladder surgery. I find the Honduran people very grateful for this service that we're providing, it's irreplaceable."

New Horizons medical and hospital personnel are working side by side during medical activities with their Honduran counterparts not only to assist one another but also to exchange information.

"I've learned a lot just being here," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Valarie Tomme, Air Force Academy medical technician out of Colorado Springs, Colo., "they do things very differently here than they do in the states...and I think it's been a great learning experience. The nurses have been able to help me a lot and teach me different ways of doing things."

Besides medical care, the team has also been able to support the hospital in other ways by lending them the support of their biomedical equipment technician, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Lopez, 375th Medical Support Squadron out of Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

"These hospitals don't have a biomedical equipment technician, they don't really have a facilities maintenance of management office," said Lopez, "what they have is electrician and maintenance men and air conditioning technicians to fill in the roles to take care of the equipment...they do what they can. I'm more familiar with the more complicated systems...I can take care of anything from a simple blood pressure machine to an MRI unit and everything in between."

Lopez's primary mission involves supporting the operating room doctors when any of their equipment malfunctions.

"As they perform surgeries I need to be immediately next to the surgery, helping out or on standby whenever the equipment experiences a failure...because they have moments when they have a patient on the table to make decisions to close them up or keep going and I'm right there as a contingency plan mostly," added Lopez.

The hospital will also receive any leftover supplies that were delivered to support the medical personnel during the exercise.

"I'm very grateful for the New Horizons exercise," said Dr. Salvador Paredes Hospital Director Melissa Bonegas, "I'm very glad that you have a surgeon and doctors that were able to see patients and help them out. I'm also very pleased with the communications people who were able to help out with electricity and were able to fix the internet. I'm also very grateful that we were able to donate some paint which will help better maintain the hospital."

Communication Airmen from the 35th Combat Communications Squadron were able to repair the hospital's ailing network, bring internet connectivity to nine offices that hadn't service in more than three years, and improving connectivity in existing offices.

Despite their being more than 100 people involved in the New Horizons exercise, and it centering primarily around construction, the number of reported medical cases has been 140, and none of those cases has been severe enough in nature to require serious medical attention from the MFST team.

"Overall this has been a pretty calm to moderate deployment with regard to medical issues," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Keiyata Styerjames, 633rd Aeromedical Squadron independent duty medical technician out of Langley Air Force Base, Va., "I'd attribute the small number of medical issues primarily to the fact that service members are using proper protective equipment and they are pretty cautious."

Medical team members will begin to redeploy in early August following the exercise's official end.

New Horizons was launched in the 1980s and is an annual joint humanitarian assistance exercise that U.S. Southern Command conducts with a partner nation in Central America, South America or the Caribbean. The exercise improves joint training readiness of U.S. and partner nation civil engineers, medical professionals and support personnel through humanitarian assistance activities.