RICHARDS BAY, South Africa - Fifteen U.S. Soldiers, including five from the New York Army National Guard, provided medical care to about 3,000 South African villagers during a medical readiness exercise July 18-26.
The Army Guard, Reserve and active-duty Soldiers worked with members of the South African Military Health Services, a branch of the South African National Defense Force, at six locations along the eastern coast 100 miles northeast of Durban. They also provided dental and veterinary services.
“This has been one of the best experiences in my military career. It’s been eye-opening, and at the same time, it’s been heartbreaking to see some of the patients here in South Africa,” said Col. Martin Ortiz, a New York Army National Guard doctor.
The medical exercise was part of Shared Accord 2022, a biannual training event pairing U.S. and African military personnel to build operational partnerships.
This year, the exercise was in South Africa. The New York National Guard and South Africa have been partners under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program for 19 years.
During Shared Accord, New York Army National Guard Soldiers also conducted tactical exercises with the South Africans.
The medical readiness exercise required a lot of planning and coordination, said Maj. Brian Bagli, a New York Army National Guard Medical Service Corps officer. U.S. personnel working with the Military Health Services and the U.S. Embassy identified and visited several community outreach clinics to prepare for the Shared Accord mission.
Baglin said the goal was to determine which clinics would best help medically underserved villages and what supplies were needed at each location. By visiting the various clinics, talking to medical staff and noting the equipment and medical supplies on hand, the medical personnel were able to determine the best team composition and order medical supplies to replenish host nation materials used during the exercise, Baglin said.
The military medical teams sent to each location included doctors, dentists, ophthalmologists, veterinarians and nurses. These were organized into multidisciplinary teams that included South African medical personnel.
The planning phase required coordination with U.S. Forces Command, the U.S. Southern European Task Force, Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, U.S. Africa Command, and the U.S. Embassy in South Africa.
Medical participants had to complete the required training to prepare for the missions. Even after the exercise began, careful planning was needed to adapt to any changes that occurred, Baglin said.
The joint American/South African medical teams operated out of six community outreach clinics and one high school and provided services to more than 3,000 civilians. U.S. dental personnel dealt with 600 patients, while veterinary teams vaccinated 5,000 animals for rabies and conducted a spay and neuter clinic for pets.
Maj. Martin Lesenyeho, a South African medical officer, said the Americans worked well with their counterparts in a successful mission.
“The U.S. military has been incredibly professional and pleasant to work with,” Lesenyeho said. “This is my first time working on this exercise with the U.S. military, but I look forward to working with them in future exercises with our partner country.“
Ortiz said the Americans also got to know the South Africans better.
“The people here are very kind and loving,” he said.
Since launching the training partnership with South Africa in 2003, New York Army and Air National Guard personnel have visited the country regularly. They have participated in air shows and military competitions and have presented at South African military schools and leadership forums.