As part of the South Carolina National Guard’s recent training exercise in Rionegro, Colombia, its members provided medical treatment to hundreds of residents of a remote village – some who hadn’t had access to care for weeks.
“To quote one of my airmen that was working with me, this is why we signed up to a certain extent, is to help our fellow humanity,” said Col. Phillip Lane Latham Jr., 169th Medical Group commander. “And no better example was made by what we did that day.”
In between two training scenarios – conducted as part of its arrangement with the Republic of Colombia through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program – seven doctors and medical technicians from the 169th Medical Group and three South Carolina Army National Guard medics were flown to the rural, tropical village of Tamana, Colombia. There, providers such as Latham, Lt. Col. Vanessa Wideman and others treated 526 Colombian patients in a matter of hours.
“You could tell once we got there, there was a lot of need,” said Wideman, who is a family practice doctor and flight surgeon.
Humanitarian mission a ‘humbling’ experience
Patients told Wideman their nearest doctor was an hour to an hour-and-a-half away from their remote village. She said she saw people struggling with hypertension and orthopedic issues, such as back and joint pain.
“It was somewhat humbling to see people who were trying to live their best lives and go about their day with things we might take for granted,” Wideman said.
Latham recalled treating an 80-year-old woman who had at least four significant skin cancers on her face and neck. On top of that, she also had eyesight issues. With equipment he brought from his clinic in South Carolina, he was able to remove the cancerous lesions, connect the patient with an Air Force optometrist and introduce her to a Colombian civilian to help her in the future.
SCNG members joined about 150 U.S. personnel and more than a dozen other countries for the Ángel de los Andes, or Angel of the Andes, and Cooperación VII exercise over the course of a week and a half, beginning at the end of the summer. Thirty SCNG soldiers and airmen participated in the Colombian-led exercise, which provided training for humanitarian aid and disaster response scenarios, such as an earthquake or tsunami.
“Participating shows our support for our state partner,” said Air Force Maj. Dan Linkroum, who also serves as the SPP coordinator. “That’s one of the big reasons we made a big effort to bring as many people as we could.”
The State Partnership Program has connected a state’s National Guard with various nations around the globe for the past 25 years. Linkroum, who was involved in the initial planning for the exercise in 2019 before it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said South Carolina’s partnership with Colombia ranges from military equipment purchases to tactical joint exercises.
This particular exercise and resulting humanitarian mission, according to Latham, was not only an important bilateral training experience, but a memorable cultural experience that impacted him and others.
“The relationships we built during this trip will last for many, many years and serve both countries in the future,” said Latham.
For more information about Guard units and training in the Southern Command, visit the U.S. Southern Command website.
This story was written by Liz Palka.Read comments