07/27/11 — Reserve medics gearing up for Nicaragua

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Reserve medics gearing up for Nicaragua

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 27, 2011 1:46 PM

The conditions won't be anything to write home about -- a brutal climate, undrinkable water, work days that begin long before sunrise.

But for the few dozen members of the 916th Air Refueling Wing's Aerospace Medicine Squadron currently gearing up for a mission that will take them to Central America, their upcoming two-week stint away from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base isn't about personal comfort.

It's about the 11,000-plus patients they expect to treat during their stay.

Some will walk for days just to get their hands on a few vitamins.

Others will stand in line for hours on end in desperate need of antibiotics, dental work and eye glasses.

But 916th AMDS Commander Col. William Bobbitt said his team will bring something far more significant to Nicaragua than temporary solutions to ailments that have gone, in some cases, undiagnosed for a lifetime.

"Public health education is probably the most important thing we do," he said. "Let's face it, we go down and see people who are infected and give them antibiotics. Well, OK. That's fine for a week. What happens in a year when we don't come back?"

More than 20 members of the 916th are set to leave Goldsboro Aug. 6.

And each, Bobbitt said, is well aware of just what he or she is signing up for.

"The days will be long and not very comfortable. It will be humid ... and it's hot," he said. "When we went to Paraguay, in nine-and-a-half working days, we saw 11,500 people. So it's busy."

But the experience, the colonel added, will likely bring with it a reward they will carry with them for the rest of their respective careers.

"A lot of good things happen on these trips," Bobbitt said. "So it's humanitarian for the country that we go to, but it's humbling for us."

916th Commander Col. Randall Ogden said he is impressed that so many have volunteered for the mission.

And he is proud of the fact that when they leave, those airmen will represent yet another group of locally-stationed Reservists making sacrifices far away from the comforts of home -- other members of the 916th just began six-month stints in Afghanistan.

"They are going to go do a great effort in Central America, helping people that are less fortunate than us, so I couldn't be more proud of them," Ogden said. "They are taking time away from their families to go help people in need -- to spread a little good will. It's a great thing."