Oregon Airmen provide care during Pacific Angel Mission

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Five members of the 142nd Fighter Wing Medical Group traveled nearly half way around the world to take part in Pacific Angel 2013-04 in Sri Lanka, July 28 - Aug 18, 2013. Pacific Angel is a United States Pacific Air Forces humanitarian mission sponsored by United States Pacific Command, which engages multiple nations in the Pacific region each year.

This year, Pacific Angel 2013-04, was a combined joint operation between the U.S. Pacific Forces and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. The joint-force mission focused on humanitarian assistance, medical and other events that directly impacted the Jaffna Peninsula of Sri Lanka.

The Oregon Airmen who participated in the mission were led by Lt. Cols. Dr. Jonathon Vinson and Dr. Thuy Tran, Master Sgt. Dana Furnia, Tech. Sgt. Misty Ray and Staff Sgt. Chau Stevens. They helped provide health services outreach in Sri Lanka. They worked in two local villages during their two weeks in the region and were part of a larger medical group made up of active duty Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and Guard and Reserve members, as well as other nations supporting the total force objectives.

Before the medical groups arrived, a civil engineering unit began renovating schools and setting up facilities in the area, thus allowing the medical teams to help take on the large volume of patients.

The chance to work abroad was a unique experience for many members. Tech. Sgt. Misty Ray, an Aerospace Medical Technician and a 12-year member of the Air National Guard, focused on the family practice aspect, seeing a variety of illnesses, injuries and other basic complaints.

"The (medical) teams that we had worked very well together and it was awesome to interact with another culture," said Ray.

Between treating spider bites, waterborne illness and cases of Tuberculosis, the biggest hurdle was the language barrier, the team said. The medical teams had assigned translators to assist, both with patient interactions and administrative paper work.

"At times we had enough help but often there were not enough translators," Ray recalled. "We had civilian medical students as our translators but there were periods where it was a challenge to keep up with the numbers of patients."

Medical teams, made up of three to five staff members each, were able to treat basic cases, often prescribing vitamins and meds and follow-up treatment with local doctors.

By the end of the Pacific Angel mission, 3,505 patients had been processed at the two locations, entailing the treatment of 522 dental, 389 physical therapy, 506 optometry and 2,115 general medical cases.

"Everyone was very patient, but at times it was a gaggle," said Ray.

Sergeant Ray reflected on the treatment of such a large number of patients as a great result of the U.S, Bangladesh and Maldives military medical teams working alongside their Sri Lankan counterparts. "Getting the locals more comfortable with their own military was all part of this experience," she said.

The conditions in the city of Jaffna presented their own challenges. The staff was advised to only drink bottled water and not eat some local food items due to water contamination issues. Rice and noodles were some things the staff ate in abundance.

The heat and humidity was another concern, but having air conditioning in the sleeping quarters gave the staff some relief at night.

Having been deployed in 2005 to Panama, Master Sgt. Dana Furnia, a Health Administrator with the 142nd Fighter Wing, had some experience with the heat and humidity conditions.

"Staying hydrated was important for all of us, but having some relief from the heat at night helped," she said.

Sergeant Furnia compared the two deployment experiences and praised how well prepared the Pacific Angel mission was organized.

After each duty day there was a 'hot-wash' to discuss what was learned from the day and how to make the next day better, she said. "The cooperation was really strong."

There were some opportunities to take in some of the culture of the region and enjoy the experience.

"The people were very nice. It did feel like what we made a huge difference," said Furnia.

The Pacific Angel mission represented an opportunity for military engineers and medical professionals to coordinate on issues of shared interest, exchange knowledge while encouraging understanding in engineering and medical practices.

Logistically, the Oregon Airmen spent four days of time traveling to Jaffna and then almost five days to return home.

"It was a terrific adventure, something everyone should try and participate in during their military career," said Ray.

Furnia summed up the experience from Pacific Angel: There is a really positive attitude about taking on more types of training like this with the (Medical) group, she said.

"Leadership has been instrumental in lighting a fire, and we are getting our people out the door to take on challenges like this," said Furnia.