As 40 U.S. Army, Europe Soldiers boarded a plane Saturday from Germany, everyone talked excitedly about their destination: Africa. Seven hours later, they touched down in the sparsely populated nation of Benin to join MEDFLAG ’06.
The exercise – supported by medical, dental and veterinarian specialists from USAREUR, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Marine Forces Europe, Naval Forces Europe and U.S. reserve units – is providing much-needed medical assistance to Benin, and nearby countries of Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal.
“The work that you are doing will make a major contribution to our bilateral relations and to the people that you are specifically helping,” Rick Holtzapple, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy, told MEDFLAG participants.
Joint teams are now traveling throughout villages, treating residents and livestock during medical civil assistance visits, and U.S. and Beninian units will combine forces in a mass casualty exercise at the nation’s primary airport.
As part of their participation, the USAREUR medical task force brought along roughly 38,000 pounds of equipment, supplies and medicines for distribution throughout MEDFLAG ’06.
This is the first military exchange exercise between Benin and another country aimed solely at addressing medical issues, said Lt. Col. Rafioo Lawani, director of Benin’s army medical school.
Besides focusing on U.S. methods of treatment and prevention, Lawani said he and his staff relished the opportunity to exercise their coalition-supporting abilities.
“We want to learn from your real-world experiences,” Lawani said, citing U.S. operations in Iraq as well as earthquake relief in Pakistan,” he said.
With Benin’s frequent participation in international peacekeeping operations, MEDFLAG ’06 will help doctors become more efficient at working with international forces, Colonel Lawani said.
Conversely, USAREUR medical staff also will learn from their Benin counterparts about tropical disease control and prevention and the effects of the AIDS virus on rural African communities.
This partnership will be evident in dispersed villages over the next two weeks, said Lt. Col. Thomas Axtman, USAREUR’s MEDFLAG task force commander, as U.S. and Beninian forces work to ease suffering in rural, isolated regions.
“It’s the meat and potatoes of why we’re here,” Colonel Axtman relayed to his team after a 12-hour day in the field.