|HOME | PRESS | SPONSORSHIP | JOIN OUR TEAM ||
Cpl. Lydia Davey,
BEMBEREKE, Benin – 06.13.2009
They came in droves, walking the narrow, hard-packed, red-dirt paths that lead to Wanrarou. They came from baked clay homes, and jungle-lined fields, leaving the essential survival tasks of the day in search of help. And many found it.
More than 500 Beninese civilians converged on Wanrarou's middle school, June 12, for day one of a six-day Medical Assistance Program coordinated by the Air Force's 459th Expeditionary Air Medical Squadron and three Benin Army doctors. The program is part of Exercise SHARED ACCORD 09, a scheduled, 15-day bilateral Benin-U.S. exercise.
"We're a little overwhelmed with the turnout," said Air Force Lt. Col. Hugh Mulagha, a flight surgeon with the 459th EAMDS. "But it's great."
"Our number one goal is treating the underserved in this region," added the Spotsylvania, Va., native. "The secondary aspect is the intercultural exchange – getting to know our friends across the sea."
The MEDCAP, which provides medical, optometry and pharmaceutical care, as well as education, will span three villages in the course of six days, said Mulagha. As for the number of people the team hopes to treat, "We're trying to treat as many as possible," Mulagha noted.
The language barrier posed an initial challenge as most area people speak a tribal dialect, while the Benin military speaks French. Although U.S. forces brought French translators, they found the three-part translation circus difficult, said Mulagha. However, with the help of willing bilingual locals, the team soon bridged the communication gap.
"I'm happy because I was able to help," said Bembereke village elder Bouraima Gbadamassi, who played an impromptu role as translator. "The whole family can come (here) without cost, and doesn't need to pay money they don't have. Also, the doctors come to us. This is very good."
Gbadamassi saw the MEDCAP convoy pass his home. Seconds later, he said, he was on his motorcycle. He followed the group to Wanrarou, where he received an eye exam, glasses and de-worming medication. His energetic, positive attitude was quickly pegged as a standard by the U.S. medical team.
"We're finding that they're a very friendly, nice people who really appreciate the care they get," said Mulagha.
Cpl. Martin Ross, an infantry Marine with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, agreed.
"It's a great feeling to be part of this," said Ross, a Springhill, Fla., native. "I'm glad to be seeing a different culture, and another part of the world. I expected to come here and do what Marines always do – help people. And this experience is everything I expected."
SHARED ACCORD is an exercise focusing on individual and crew served weapons proficiency and small unit training tactics, techniques and procedures as well as company and battalion level staff training. The exercise is scheduled to conclude June 25.