VICENZA, Italy (March 20, 2012) -- Buildings and roads eventually crumble and the memory of construction quickly fades away, but when the healing arts are involved, people never forget the care and assistance provided.

MEDREACH 11, a U.S. Army Africa-sponsored exercise, took place at the Kumuzu Barracks in Malawi, May 2011. The exercise focused on increasing the combined readiness of medical forces to respond to humanitarian emergencies.

After almost a year, MEDREACH 11 has proven to be more than just one of the mere routine exchange programs that happen between the Malawi and American governments. For the Malawi Defense Force, or MDF, medical practitioners, this exercise has proven to be outstanding and helpful in their careers.

Capt. (Dr.) Kelvin Bazale Dembo, a regimental medical officer serving with the Malawi Defense Force Battalion, or MALBATT, was the lead MDF medical planner during the exercise. Dembo said the event increased his confidence and composure when planning events.

"During the exercise I thought I was just participating in one of our usual exchange programs. I concentrated and did my best, but little did I know that the experience gained would help me to this extent, especially in Ivory Coast," said Dembo. "It opened my eyes and exposed me to new things. In a nutshell, it was a hidden treasure found in my Army medical career, who used what he learned from the event in Ivory Coast for a peacekeeping mission."

Dembo said he drew upon MEDREACH 11 training experiences in Malawi during Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance, known as ACOTA, pre-deployment training, organized by U.S. State Department. Thus far, he has planned, managed and executed two training exercises for Malawi troops (HIV & AIDS Sensitization and Combat Life Saver Course) in Cote d'Ivoire.

Joe Jeffries, a lead exercise planner for U.S. Army Africa, said he also gained a lot of experience from planning MEDREACH 11, which took more than a year and a half of joint planning with the MDF.

"Planning in an area away from your home station is challenging, especially for an event like MEDREACH," Jeffries said. "An event of this caliber has to be planned well in advance in order for everything to go smoothly."

Maj. Joseph Kline, officer in charge and lead medical planner for the 399th Combat Support Hospital during MEDREACH 11, said the most satisfying thing about participating in the exercise was helping the Malawi people receive the best medical care available.

"The Malawi Defense Forces are very knowledgeable and have a sincere caring heart for their people," Kline said. "They are more than eager to share their knowledge, customs and way of life. All we have to do is ask them."

Kline said working with the MDF provided insight of how a professional and well-trained military can accomplish goals that may otherwise seem daunting or difficult to complete.

"The joint exercise with the MDF provided insight of how to operate and conduct medical care in an austere tropical environment," Kline said. "I have a greater understanding how a medical training mission with the inclusion of a humanitarian mission expands good will and develops our own medical capacity. Despite the limited medical supplies, everyone that received medical care had the best options provided to them in the time allowed."

After working with the MDF, Kline said he was pleased on how well the MDF handled their tasks, and he respected their professionalism.

"The MDF are very professional, well trained military force. We built strong bonds with one another and continue to correspond via email and share information," Kline said. "We shared common goals and each one of us had something new to offer one another. The MDF had different ways to problem solve with the same end result. We learned some new efficient ways of doing business."

So far, the Malawi medical team is proving to be among the best during each and every United Nations Mission in Ivory Coast, or ONUCI, day celebrations where medical, environmental health, humanitarian, sociocultural and civil military activities are showcased.

In the cities of Bongouanou and Sekise, more than 650 patients with different illnesses ranging from malaria to dental complications received free medical care.

Lt. Getrude Daire Ngwata, a registered nurse and head of the MDF nursing staff, said she was able to apply her training on combat life saving from the exercise.

"MEDREACH 11 has changed my perception on health care delivery in Malawi," Ngwata said. "The number of people who came for health services was overwhelming, especially in rural areas where health centers are overstretched. I wholeheartedly enjoyed the training, but more especially the health services offered to the people of Malawi."

During the ongoing peacekeeping mission in Ivory Coast, more than 100 locals have been given free medical care at the MALBATT level one hospital and 14,000 liters of treated water is being distributed on a weekly basis to locals near the MDF's deployed camp to solve general water issues in the area that bring about water borne diseases.

Ngwata said she liked the MEDREACH 11 community outreach programs most because she is now able to comfortably apply the knowledge and skills gained from the exercise to her current peacekeeping mission with civilians in Ivory Coast.

"The community outreach medical help was superb, as many civilians received help with dental problems, mosquito nets for malaria prevention and voluntary counseling and testing for HIV services," said Ngwata. "It was a blessing to the people to be offered such services by the military personnel. They had the best care they could get in those health centers."

As was the case in Malawi, MDF-led community medical outreach programs in Ivory Coast are helping to promote civilian and military relations by stabilizing the attitude of the people there toward ONUCI personnel.

"Imagine, what kind of image do these rural people have on us now? In my opinion I think at first it was all about violence and war, but today they have a different view all together because we were able to attend to their problems while in uniform," said Ngwata.

Kline agreed the Humanitarian Civic Action, or HCA, missions have improved the relationships between the MDF and their local population.

"I believe part of the humanitarian mission strengthened the bond with the MDF and their own populace. The U.S. was seen as augmenting, not replacing the work of the MDF," Kline said.

While the MEDREACH 11training improved the civilian and military relationships, it also improved the relationships between the Malawi and U.S. militaries.

"Building relationships and developing new friendships are paramount to [having] a secure and peaceful environment," Kline said. "Understanding each other's capacity and limitations enhances our ability to work with one another. It produces lasting relationships and creates an efficient working process."

Dembo said he also enjoyed the interaction between the U.S. and MDF presenters, which he believed strengthened the partnership between the two countries.

"There was enhancement of trust between the two armies and the exercise was executed in honest as well as transparent manner," Dembo said.

Jeffries said he is very satisfied with the outcome of the event, and the reactions of all the participants from the training.

"It is very gratifying to watch your work unfold into a successful event," Jeffries said. "It feels great knowing that the U.S. and the MDF soldiers gained so much valuable knowledge from this training, and most importantly enjoyed themselves."

Page last updated Mon March 26th, 2012 at 07:37