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Lending a helping hand in the DR

  • Published
  • By Maj. Salvador Torres-Torres, BSC
  • 927th Aeromedical Staging Training Squadron
Despite the fact I have served in the military for 26 years, every humanitarian mission I have served as a physician's assistant is a new experience and adventure. My last humanitarian mission was in the beautiful Dominican Republic, where we provided medical care to 8,532 people of Puerto Plata in 10 days.

This deployment provided a rare opportunity to conduct a joint mission with the Dominican air force, as they provided force protection, overnight supply, security, translators and medical providers. The Dominican air force leadership was extremely responsive in meeting all requests.

Our medical team consisted of seven medical doctors, three dentists, three optometrists, four nurses and eight medical technicians. We were ready and anxious to start the mission and worked together with local medical providers to learn some of the clinical services they offer to their people. As we arrived every day to our clinic our jaws would drop to see the never-ending lines of people waiting to be seen since 4 o'clock in the morning.

Despite the wait, the local people always greeted us with a smile and joy in their eyes. It was a definite wake-up call for some of the troops in our unit to see that the simple things like decent healthcare we receive in the United States are a rare privilege for the people of Puerto Plata. Every day we saw more that 500 patients and some days more than 1,000 people, which made time fly by in the steamy weather. During the mission we supplied more than 9,800 prescriptions and gave more than 2,380 lenses to those who could not afford them. Needless to say, throughout the mission there were several emotional moments.

The team I worked with came from different units, but every day we worked as one and the feeling of family was stronger every day. We shared the Dominican people's struggles and happiness and the best of all, their delicious cuisine! There are no words to express how grateful and humbled I was, as the people of Puerto Plata shared what little they had with me.

I thank my commanding officer, Lt. Col. Dawn Moore, 927th Aeromedical Staging Training Squadron, for the opportunity of serving this outstanding final mission, as I will retire this August from the military. It has been a true privilege and honor to have served in the United States military and in the five humanitarian missions since I arrived to Madill AFB in Tampa, Fla. For me all five missions, especially those in the Dominican Republic, will remain priceless memories that will stay in my heart forever.