COURTESY OF U.S. ARMY
U.S. servicemen and Bangladeshi soldiers and civilians unload humanitarian supplies from a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter after arrival in Patuakhali.
Medics in right place, right time to aid victims
Fortunately for many, the Army team was in Bangladesh before a Category 4 cyclone hit
When Army pediatrician Anne Naclerio cradled a 5-day-old malnourished, Bangladeshi infant, she didn't think she would be able resuscitate the young girl.
"She was suffering from an overwhelming number of infections in her blood system," said the lieutenant colonel who is a member of the Headquarters staff at U.S. Army Pacific at Fort Shafter. "It was a miracle that the baby hadn't already succumbed to these infections."
Treating the girl with antibiotics, the Fort Shafter medical team was able to save her life.
Naclerio was part of an 18-member Fort Shafter medical team that returned last week after spending a month in southern Bangladesh, much of that time providing medical relief in the southern part of the Asian country.
Col. Thomas Bailey headed the medical assistance team as they helped victims of a recent destructive cyclone. Bailey said he treated an 80-year-old man who had already experienced five earlier tropical cyclones and lost his entire family.
"His wife was gone," said Bailey in reviewing the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Sidr. "Now after experiencing ... his sixth storm, he had nothing left."
Maj. McKinley Rainey noted that people of Bangladesh are "very proud and very tough" and within days after the cyclone hit their country they had begun to rebuild their homes and their lives.
In mid-November a Category 4 cyclone struck Bangladesh with winds exceeding 150 mph, killing more than 3,500 people and leaving millions without homes and safe drinking water.
The Fort Shafter team was already in Bangladesh Nov. 11 when the storm hit.
"We were getting to ready leave on Nov. 17 when we got a phone call from the U.S. Embassy saying the government of Bangladesh would need our help in the cyclone relief effort," said Bailey.
The Fort Shafter team of pediatricians, family practice doctors, optometrists, dentists, veterinarians, medics, and pharmacy and dental technicians was sent to Patuakhali where it was assigned to the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Okinawa.
During the next three weeks the Fort Shafter medical team treated 2,000 patients while its veterinarians took care of 500 head of livestock.
"The eight-day training mission," Bailey said, "turned into a real world medical emergency."
For three weeks Bailey's team of medical experts hitched CH-53 Sea Stallion rides from the helicopter assault carriers USS Tarawa and the Kearsarge for the one hour and 15-minute commute to flood ravaged areas in Patuakhali.
Bailey said that for the past eight years teams of Army doctors and other medical specialists have participated in these readiness training exercises in Mongolia, Thailand and the Philippines.
"We go to these austere environments and we work side by side with our counterparts," Bailey added. "We learn from their techniques and they learn from ours."
Before the cyclone struck, Bailey's team was divided into two operations with 12 doctors and medical technicians working at Haimchar and another six dentists, technicians and optometrists assigned farther south at Comilla, about 50 miles away at a military base.
"That was the poorest part of the country," Bailey said. In Haimchar the Fort Shafter medical team was assigned to a 30-bed rural health clinic. "There was just 30 beds there and nothing more," Bailey said.
In four days, the Army team treated 1,000 people and 200 animals.