Exercise takes troops to Africa

***image1***Dozens of KMC servicemembers recently traveled to countries along Africa’s West Coast to take part in MEDFLAG 2006, an annual U.S. European Command combined military exercise aimed at forging stronger ties with African allies in the region.

The 14-day exercise took place simultaneously in Senegal, Nigeria, Benin and Ghana, while other servicemembers worked out of Angola. Local participants included Airmen from the 1st Combat Communication Squadron, 86th Contingency Response Group, 700th Contracting Squadron and the 435th Medical Group and Protocol office. Soldiers from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center also helped conduct clinics in Benin, where more than 2,000 patients were seen.

On the Air Force side, members of the 1st Combat Communication Squadron deployed three two-person initial communication teams to Nigeria and Ghana to provide technical support and facilitate the rapid relay of information between medical staff divided across three sites. They worked to help provide medical and veterinary specialists from European Command with secure and non-secure data and voice services.

“This was a fantastic opportunity to provide dental and optometry care to people who literally had nothing,” said Senior Airman Andrew Lewis, 1st CBCS. “It was an extremely rewarding experience.”

Other Airmen were deployed to the West African city of Tamale, Ghana and manned two clinics – one in the heart of Tamale and the other in the village of Tampiong.

In an area where standard medical care is scarce, hundreds of people waited in lines for days to see the U.S. doctors. Though not everyone was able to be seen, those who did receive treatment were grateful for the chance.
“I have never seen an American in Ghana before, until now,” said Abulsari Rafakat, who waited in line all day Sept. 12 before being seen Sept. 13. “I’m feeling good to see them come. I wish they would be here all the time.”
The fact that they’ve made a difference to so many people isn’t lost on those who have been treating the people of Ghana.

“It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done, just to be able touch so many lives,” said Senior Airman Holly Klug, an optometry technician from the 435th Medical Group. “Watching the reaction on their faces when they could see was the best part.”

***image2***Members of the 435th MDG also helped some citizens of Ghana to see a little better, partnering with optometrists from Spangdahlem’s 52nd Medical Group to bring more than 900 pairs of Adaptive Eyewear, a type of eyeglass that enables the wearer to “fill” their prescription immediately.

“This is good for deployed forces and humanitarian events like (MEDFLAG)”, said Maj. Craig McCluer, an optometrist from the 52nd Medical Group deployed to Ghana. “With adaptive eyewear we can correct the eyesight of more than 90 percent of the people who need glasses.”

Airmen from the 86th Contingency Response Group also deployed to Africa, working with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Angola to provide more than 3,000 gallons of purified sea water per day for nearly 200 personnel assigned to the MEDFLAG joint task force there.

The servicemembers’ efforts did not go unnoticed. Pamela Bridgewater, the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, visited both clinics and had high praise for the work being done there.

“I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of gratitude, by the long, patient lines of people waiting for assessment and medical, dental and optometry treatment, and by the enthusiasm demonstrated by the USAFE forces,” she said. “The outreach was a win-win and I was never more proud of being an
American than when I saw USAFE forces in action.”

(Contributing to this story were Tech. Sgt. Pamela Anderson, 52nd FW Public Affairs; Lt. Ken Malloy, 1st CBCS; USAREUR Public Affairs; and the Kaiserslautern American staff)