From Costa Rica: Optometrist's right-hand Airman

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Steve Bauer
  • 30th Space Wing Public Affairs
In a foreign land thousands of miles from home, one Vandenberg Air Force Base Airman finds herself filling a role to which she is unaccustomed in her normal medical career field duties.

Senior Airman Maricella Estrada, a 30th Medical Operations Squadron aerospace medicine journeyman, is currently deployed to a northern region of Alajuela in support of a joint humanitarian mission with local Costa Rican physicians. 

However, her medical expertise isn't her primary duty here. Airman Estrada speaks fluent Spanish and is filling an important role as an interpreter.

Fluently transitioning back and forth between English and Spanish, she is the glue that binds the physicians with the patients.

"I feel like I would be crippled without Airman Estrada here," said Capt. Adam Klemens, a 30th Medical Operations Squadron physician and humanitarian team member. "I know a little Spanish, but I need her in order to get the job done. We would not be able to service as many people without the use of an interpreter."

Together, the optometrist and interpreter work well as a team. To add to the efficiency, optometry is an area of interest for Airman Estrada.

"She has never worked in the area of optometry, but her interest in the field of study has made her more effective helping me out as my assistant here," Captian Klemens said.

This is the first Air Force humanitarian mission of which Airman Estrada has been a part.

"It has been a very different experience for me," she said. "I am thankful my parents taught me Spanish from a young age so that I'm now able to help provide patients with a better understanding so that they receive the best possible care."

Even though Airman Estrada is fluent in a pair of languages, she still has faced some unexpected problems on the mission.

"Since there are few team members who speak Spanish, the patients sometimes flood me with a lot of questions," Airman Estrada said. "I do the best I can, providing the patients with correct information and directing them where to go to receive care if their problem is outside of optometry."

Overall, Airman Estrada is thankful the Air Force has afforded her the opportunity to work with and meet new people from a different culture.

"In general, the locals I have met are very welcoming of the Air Force's presence in their community," she said. "They show gratitude for the work we are doing here and display acts of kindness by offering us pineapples from the nearby fields."

Airman Estrada is a true example of an Airman willing to go anywhere and do any job to support of the Air Force mission.

(Editor's note: Airmen from Vandenberg's 30th MDG, along with three specialists from other Air Force medical units are working jointly with Costa Rican medical professionals in this humanitarian effort. While Air Force medical teams often mobilize to support humanitarian missions, this team is the first full medical-specialty team from the United States allowed into Costa Rica.)