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Thousands treated, partnerships formed during Operation Pacific Angel-Laos

by Master Sgt. Mike Hammond
Pacific Angel-Laos Public Affairs

5/5/2012 - PHONSAVAHN, Laos (AFNS) -- Thirty American military members, along with partners from the Lao People's Democratic Republic and the U.S. Embassy, treated more than 3,650 patients, renovated five health clinics and schools, and shared medical and engineering expertise with each other during Operation Pacific Angel-Laos here, April 23-28 .

PACANGEL-Laos, the second in a series of four such humanitarian and capacity building missions this fiscal year, officially wrapped up during a ceremony April 30 at the Lao-Mongolian Friendship Hospital in Phonsavahn.

Maj. Gen. Jon Shasteen, Mobilization Assistant to the Commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, attended the closing ceremony, as did the U.S. Ambassador to Laos, the honorable Karen Stewart, and Vice Governor of the Xiengkhouang Province, the honorable Khampien Sinouanthong. The officials thanked the U.S. and Lao participants for the teamwork and partnership in making lasting contributions to the people of Laos.

During the mission, U.S. and Lao medical professionals provided patients at the Lao-Mongolian Hospital in Phonsavahn and District Hospital in Phasay with specialized optometry and dental services, as well as general medical treatment. U.S. doctors and medics also assisted existing Provincial Public Health Education outreach programs, helping educate the Lao populace and caretakers on topics to enhance health and wellness in their communities. Information exchanges in the fields of nursing care, trauma and obstetrics - along with professional lectures on several medical topics - enabled learning on the part of all participants.

In addition, U.S. Air Force civil engineers, local contractors, and Lao military members repaired and renovated five medical facilities in the area. The work will vastly improve the medical care of local residents, according to 1st Lt. Warren Wade, officer in charge of the civil engineer projects.

"The five facilities we worked on serve 9,250 patients per year and 300 nursing students," said Wade, of the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. "We also shared information designed to enhance on-the-job safety for Lao military members and local health department engineers."

In many ways, Pacific Angel-Laos demonstrated flexibility and spontaneity. U.S. doctors, nurses and medical technicians had the opportunity to perform potentially lifesaving care to a critically injured local farmer. Doctors also consulted with a local pediatrician on a nutrition and care plan for a premature infant whose condition was not previously improving. As it happened, the subject matter expert exchanges during PAC ANGEL covered many of the same topics - including trauma care, burn management and obstetrics.

Aside from these additional opportunities, the civil engineers renovated two more facilities than originally planned and the overall medical team treated hundreds more patients than expected. All this was possible because of the attitude that the team was here to help and learn as much as possible, according to Pacific Angel-Laos chief of contracting, Tech. Sgt. Ruben Mindieta.

"I spent a good amount of time on this mission accomplishing contract modifications and looking for supplies we find readily available back home," said Mindieta, of the 354th Contracting Squadron, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. "But part of being on the (Pacific Angel) team is practicing adaptability - doing more than you thought you could, with less than you thought you needed. I was personally very happy to help facilitate all the additional accomplishments through what my contracting expertise brought to the team."

The partnership and educational opportunities were many, but in the purest sense the operation touched individuals.

"We came to Laos, not only to build capacity with our Lao-Military counterparts, but also to establish new relationships and serve the people," said Lt. Col. Keith Gibson, Pacific Angel-Laos mission commander. "The tremendous efforts and compassion of our combined U.S. and Lao team made this first PAC ANGEL in Laos a reality - and what's more, it enabled us to positively impact the maximum number of people in greatest need. Nothing is more rewarding than that."

To one very busy local nurse, the support from the U.S.-Lao partnership helped bolster her resolve to press on with her vital care in a remote area of the Xiengkhouang province of Laos.

"When I first came here (to the Phong Thong medical clinic), I was not sure how long I could stay," said nurse Daeng Keoduangdy. Daeng is the only nurse at a clinic serving four villages and 800 people. "But because this community has become my family and friends, and because of good support like this and from the Provincial Health Department and my district, it motivates me to continue here. On behalf of my patients here, I say thank you. This work will help us!"

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