Humanitarian mission aids Pacific isle nations
Twenty-four Hickam Air Force Base and five Tripler Army Medical Center medical and engineering specialists will spend 10 days on the first humanitarian assistance mission to the island nations of Vanuatu, Kiribati and Nauru since World War II.
Air Force Col. Daniel Wyman, Pacific Air Forces command surgeon and 13th Air Force surgeon, said the Hawaii contingent is part of a 50-member military team that left Hickam early yesterday morning on a C-17 Globemaster cargo jet from the 446th Airlift Wing based at McChord Air Force Base in Washington.
The 10-day humanitarian mission -- composed of Air Force, Army and Navy engineers, dental personnel, medical technicians and health care administrators -- is led by Col. Rita Richardson, an Air Force nurse.
The mission is broken into three separate teams, Wyman said, and will provide medical, dental and engineering support and training to these island nations.
Twenty-eight people will work on Kiribati, which was once known as the Gilbert Islands and which won its independence in 1979 from the United Kingdom. Made up of 33 atolls in the Pacific Ocean straddling the equator, it is about one-half of the way from Hawaii to Australia.
The Air Force said that besides providing health care on Kiribati, U.S. personnel will renovate three clinics.
Another team of 12 people will work on Nauru, the world's smallest island nation, covering 8.1 square miles. It won its independence from Australia in 1968 and is located south of the equator, about 2,500 miles southwest of Honolulu.
On Nauru, team members will work with local health and education officials to establish a school physical program to screen for learning disabilities and also will implement a diabetes education program.
On Vanuatu -- 1,090 miles east of Australia -- 10 team members will conduct classes for people there responsible for training the police force, fire department and customs personnel on basic life support. It has been a republic since 1980.
Wyman said planning for this mission has been going on for the past three months and was coordinated through the State Department and funded by the U.S. Pacific Command as part of its theater security cooperation and humanitarian assistance operations.
He said the mission is "an excellent opportunity to show the rest of the world our ability to assist and help these nations build their capabilities ... which helps to make them stronger."