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Vandenberg medics help village of El Horno, Honduras

EL HORNO, Honduras - Capt. Kimberly Evans, Medical Element at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, listens to a patient's medical history with the help of Tech. Sgt. Jesus Antillon, who translated for her during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise June 29, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

EL HORNO, Honduras - Capt. Kimberly Evans, Medical Element at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, listens to a patient's medical history with the help of Tech. Sgt. Jesus Antillon, who translated for her during a Medical Readiness Training Exercise June 29, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sonny Cohrs)

EL HORNO, Honduras -- While many Americans were getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July with cookouts, fireworks and family outings, two Airmen from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., volunteered their four-day weekend to help those in need.

Tech. Sgt. Jesus Antillon and Staff Sgt. Paul Herrera-Ramirez, 30th Medical Group, are currently deployed Medical Element at Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras. They were selected to serve as translators, in addition to their duties as medical personnel. "As a native Spanish speaker, my main duties were to bridge the communication gap between the patient and the provider," Sergeant Antillon said.

Approximately 40 American and Honduran servicemembers traveled from the base to the village of El Horno, Honduras, to provide medical care to the locals as part of a Medical Readiness Training Exercise, or MEDRETE.

The village, atop a nearby mountain with 5,000 feet elevation, is located 15 kilometers East-Northeast of the base. To drive there, it takes nearly three hours along a rugged mountain pass, which is sometimes washed out and impassable during the rainy season. For this reason, the team took the seven-minute flight via a UH-60 helicopter instead, maximizing their time and ensuring safe transport of personnel and the 650 pounds of medical supplies.

The two Vandenberg Airmen, along with many others on the mission, said they felt a great sense of pride to help out with this mission.

"I think it is important for the U.S. to help the less fortunate of this region because we need to set the example for the rest of the world to follow," he said. "These humble people have opened their arms and hearts to us; this is the least we could do to thank them for their generous hospitality."

Sergeant Herrera-Ramirez agreed, saying, "As I spoke with some of the local Hondurans, they would mention and comment that they imagine the USA must be great country to live in. I think it's important to maintain that and give to countries that don't get to enjoy what we have every day."

El Horno, which translates to "the oven," is home to approximately 450 people. Even more people traveled by foot from other villages when they heard the Americans were providing medical care and medicines for them. The two-day total for this mission was 1,072 patients, with 505 the first day, and 567 the second.

Medical services offered included health screenings, preventative medicine, general medical care, dental care, pharmacy services and a cervical cancer screening. Doctors from the Honduran Ministry of Health also attended the MEDRETE and facilitated much of the medical care alongside the American doctors, nurses and technicians.

The patients, who were standing in line before the team even arrived, were first greeted and given a preventative health briefing, which consisted of information on basic food and personal hygiene.

After the preventative medicine class, nurses took a brief medical history and assessed their condition. Children and pregnant females were given priority, along with those who traveled the greatest distance to see the doctors.

Of those who needed to see a doctor, many were prescribed medications, most commonly antibiotics, pain relievers, decongestants and antacids. All of the patients were very thankful for the care they received, according to Sergeant Antillon.

"I felt a great sense of honor and pride helping my Latino brethren," Sergeant Antillon said. "This was the third mission (like this) I've been on in my Air Force career; every one of the missions has a special place in my heart."

Sergeant Herrera-Ramirez said he was amazed at just how grateful the people were, noting that one lady who had traveled a great distance brought a fresh pot of coffee to show her appreciation.

Aside from the personal satisfaction of helping people in need, the MEDEL team members gained valuable training from this MEDRETE. By visiting such a remote area, they were able to gain first-hand experience, and they're now better prepared to deploy to other regions of Central America for disaster relief and provide humanitarian assistance.