by Maj. Chris Patterson
A little Moroccan girl smiles as she
is entertained while
waiting with her mother to be
treated by the Utah medical staff.
Morocco – More than 40 Utah Guard Airmen and Soldiers, along
with U.S. Marines, Navy and Air Force Reserves, joined
forces with the Moroccan military during the last two weeks
of April 2007 in the southern part of the African nation for
a variety of training exercises dubbed Operation African
the Moroccan military and U.S. Marines and Sailors conducted
bilateral unit-level training and live-fire exercises,
medical personnel from the Utah National Guard teamed up
with their Moroccan military counterparts to provide primary
health care to thousands of patients in rural areas of
Morocco inhabited by Berber tribesmen and other nomadic
peoples in and around the city of Tan Tan.
medical staff was led by a psychologist and included three
obstetricians, an emergency-room doctor, two dentists, three
physician assistants, an optometrist, a nurse practitioner,
ICU nurses, a neonatal nurse, dental assistants and medics
along with dedicated medical and dental support and linguist
and supply personnel.
exercise was sponsored by the State Partnership Program, a
State Department initiative where National Guards from
individual states cultivate a relationship with another
country’s military in order to foster mutual understanding,
cooperation and learning.
2003 under this program, the Utah National Guard has worked
with military officials from the Kingdom of Morocco, a
country in Northwest Africa located directly across the
Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. African Lion was part of the
continuing military exchange between Utah and Morocco to
further business, political, military and medical ties
between the two nations.
years ago Morocco was the very first nation to recognize the
United States as a sovereign nation, and for the last four
years Utah Guard members have greatly benefited from
training and working in Morocco. Humanitarian exercises such
as this one hone Soldiers’ and Airmen’s military and medical
skills, as well as provide an opportunity for them to train
with the Moroccan military and serve remote populations that
do not have access to routine health care.
Taking the Show on the Road
fourth consecutive year of providing humanitarian medical
support to Morocco, the Utah National Guard provided many
types of health care to Moroccans to include dentistry,
general practice, OB-GYN, dermatology, pediatrics and
optometry, along with a pharmacy to fill many prescription
needs. Such services are normally not available in rural
contrast to last year’s medical mission, Utah Guard members
went from village to village to provide health care to local
Moroccans instead of setting up shop in one location and
having patients come to them.
traveling clinic first treated over 350 patients in the Ben
Khalil area, which meant that ten percent of the population
was seen at the clinic during this one-day opportunity.
Patients could be seen appearing from the deserted landscape
as they walked from apparent unseen tents or homes out in
the sandy environs.
by Maj. Chris Patterson
Pfc. Ward prepares a dental patient.
Moroccan people were very hospitable, and we were served an
excellent herbal honey tea upon our arrival and throughout
the day,” explained Lt. Luke Einerson.
day the Utah Guard and their Moroccan counterparts traveled
to Chbika, a small hamlet on the southern coast with a
population of about 300 nomadic fishermen and residents. An
incredible turnout resulted in 235 patient visits with
slightly larger town of Telimzoune then received medical
visits for two days from the medical teams. And despite the
busyness of the staff, many found time during the deployment
to make friends and give of themselves.
Breaking Down Language Barriers
mission the Utah Guard deployed both French and Arabic
linguists from the 300th Military Intelligence
Brigade to facilitate doctor-patient communication. Due to a
heavy demand, some of the translation cycles were
complicated as they were often from a patient who spoke
Arabic through a translator who only spoke French and Arabic
to a Utah Guard soldier who spoke French and English and
finally on to the medical doctor who only spoke English.
these remote areas, even the Moroccan doctors needed
translation assistance. While they were thoroughly educated
in French and Arabic, many of their patients spoke only a
Berber dialect that additional linguists from the local area
were required to translate.
Working As a Joint Team
and Soldiers who normally do not train jointly came together
to carry out this critical mission.
team became one rather than an Air or Army entity,” said
Senior Master Sergeant Merlin Tomshack. “The Moroccan
providers worked seamlessly with our providers and
technicians. Given the state of the world, there was truly
peace on this mission in Morocco.”
military doctors volunteered for this humanitarian mission
from large communities such as Rabat, the capital, and other
metropolitan areas in the country.
by Maj. Chris Patterson
Lt. Col. Paul Byrd runs a footrace
with some of the local Moroccan children.
James Nelson, a Utah Air Guard doctor, with an OB-GYN
practice in American Fork, Utah, likened this humanitarian
operation with Morocco to providing primary health care in
less-privileged areas of the United States.
able to work jointly with our Moroccan friends to provide
health care to people who would not normally have access,”
benefit of the exercise is that the Utah Guard was also able
to work with Moroccan doctors on global and local health
issues and together provided solutions for these remote
areas that rarely see medical doctors and specialists.
Obstetricians and Gynecologists Deliver
three Utah National Guard OB-GYN physicians assigned to the
exercise were members of the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecology (ACOG). Lt. Col. James Nelson;
Lt. Col. Jon Ahlstrom, Ogden, and Maj. Walter Townson,
Sandy, all have successful private practices here in Utah.
year our Moroccan friends requested that we bring over more
doctors specializing in obstetrics and gynecology,” said
Nelson, who is also a flight surgeon in the Utah Air
addition to the medical expertise Utah was able to bring to
Morocco, doctors also arrived equipped to pass along 24
donated copies of the 2006 ACOG Compendium, as well as
Williams Obstetrics and other gynecology, pediatric and
generous donations provided the latest encyclopedias of
OB-GYN information directly to rural areas of Morocco and to
excellent doctors in Morocco who will put them to immediate
use,” said Nelson.
Moroccan visits have not only benefited the Moroccan people,
but U.S. doctors were also able to learn a new culture and
year, I was able to diagnose twins for a new Moroccan
mother,” said Ahlstrom. “We were able to perform sonograms
and inform pregnant women of the sex of the fetus and also
printed pictures of the fetus for people who had probably
never even heard of the procedure before.”
surprise of the physicians’ deployment to Morocco came on
the last day of their travels in the coast city of El Quatia,
Morocco. This quiet port town is home to many fishermen and
beautiful beaches that are largely unspoiled by humans. The
clinic in El Quatia responded quickly to the emergency of a
pregnant mother who was already in advanced labor with the
Moroccan and U.S. doctors working together again as they had
throughout the past week.
Moroccan OB-GYN whom we have been working closely with, Dr.
Mustafa, delivered the baby boy after only a few minutes of
his mother’s arrival, and I was able to assist with the
birth and cutting the cord,” reported a smiling Townson.
Physician Assistants Make a Difference
Physician assistants are a critical cog in the military
medical machine, and Utah PA’s made a great contribution to
this mission in various areas to include general medicine,
dermatology, OB-GYN and pediatrics.
“Physician assistants are invaluable contributors as they
are fully functioning providers who act independently and
competently, allowing the attending M.D. to see many more
patients,” said Col. Peter Taillac, an emergency-room
physician at the University of Utah Medical Center and
senior medical officer in the Utah National Guard’s Medical
Describing military physician assistants as “the wheels that
the army medical machine runs on,” Taillac further explained
the role of physician assistants in the military.
are able to handle 95 percent of the issues that come
through the door, and this is a reflection of Army
philosophy,” said Taillac. “As far as taking care of troops,
[physician assistants] are the ones who get to do it, and
our military has the best trained physician assistants in
this brief deployment, Utah’s physician assistants were able
to better many lives. Among the over 2,500 patients seen
during a six-day period, Lt. Col. Kenneth Wade, a practicing
Physician Assistant in a private OB-GYN practice in Logan,
who has also provided health care in Guatemala, Nicaragua
and many other Latin-American countries, was able to
diagnose gallstones through an ultrasound and refer a woman
for surgery in a matter of minutes, affording her the
opportunity to receive the health care she needed.
David Furuta, a full-time Army physician assistant in the
Utah National Guard’s Medical Command, treated a fisherman
patient in a small coastal city. This man was suffering with
a swollen and very tender ring finger, which had become
infected more than a month earlier.
draining the abscess which had developed in the man’s
finger, Furuta opened the wound to find a fish bone
measuring over one-quarter inch embedded deep in the tissue.
After irrigating the wound with a field-expedient saline and
betadine mixture, Furuta and the medical staff sent the
patient home with the antibiotic Keflex and enough bandages
and ointment so that the finger could heal properly. The
medical staff even donated a week’s supply of the heavier
OB-GYN surgical gloves so that the fisherman could work
without further risk of infection.
we saved a finger and perhaps the whole hand,” observed Lt.
Col. Scott Wall, a surgical nurse who assisted throughout
the sterile procedure.
Physician Assistant 1st Lt. Fabian Dela Rosa, a
member of the Utah Air Guard who lives and practices
medicine in El Paso, Texas, for the Texas Tech Orthopedics
Clinic, took satisfaction in helping with what might seem
more mundane conditions such as asthma, which can be
worsened by allergens, dust or pollution.
are able to diagnose and provide treatment options for an
asthmatic patient, we open up health possibilities that are
life-changing,” Dela Rosa said.
Sharing Our Culture, Making New Friends
the deployment, members of the Utah medical staff had many
opportunities to break the cross-cultural ice with temporary
tattoos, bubbles and balloons as they treated patients or
helped villagers with the tedium of standing in long lines
in the hot sun.
Guard Master Sergeant Joe Guimon entertained young children
with his balloon animals that brought smiles to many young
Paul Byrd, an Air Guard psychologist, brought a kite from
home, but the breezeless day made it impossible to get it
off the ground, so he challenged the kids to a footrace
where all finished as winners.
Utah-Morocco relationships were also strengthened when
Soldiers and Airmen presented soccer balls, stuffed animals
and school supplies to local schoolchildren and orphanages.
The materials were supplied by Utah donors.
Summing It Up
total, the traveling medical clinic treated over 2,500
patients in the Tan Tan area, and many on the medical staff
were heard bragging about getting a kiss from grateful
children,. All were pleased to spend their time in Morocco
volunteering their services to better the lives of their
newfound friends. Participating members of the Utah Guard
left Morocco with the thanks of thousands and look forward
to their return.
Sgt. Steven Maxfield, a medic, EMT and 22-year veteran of
the Utah National Guard, summed up their two-week mission in
Morocco as he fitted a young nine-year-old Moroccan boy with
here to improve the vision that the world has of Americans
and to improve the quality of life for these patients,”
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