LAMU, Kenya -- Service members from Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa traveled to Kenya in support their first Medical Civil Action Program in the region, where they treated nearly 1,000 patients July 30-31.
The 478th Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations) Army Reserve unit, based out of Miami, Fla., has been conducting MEDCAPs in Djibouti, another country in the Horn of Africa region since May, in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
Civil Affairs is an important pillar in support of CJTF-HOA, giving the task force the ability to build goodwill and show the United States is in partnership with countries in the Horn of Africa, explained Army Reserve Maj. Ralph Engeler, CA company commander.
"We are here to do good things and support the civil population whenever possible," he said. "The use of CA forces allows the military commander to put a positive light on the operation, using very few assets to do so."
This was the first time the MEDCAP team has worked outside of Djibouti. Lamu is an island just off the Southern coast of Kenya, so it is only accessible by boat. Prior to their arrival, much of their supplies and accommodations had to be procured locally.
In the past, the team has faced many different obstacles at each location a MEDCAP is held. At some clinics there is no running water or electricity, making it more difficult to operate in the area.
At Lamu, the medical team was able to work in a controlled environment at the only hospital on the island, King Fahd District Hospital.
"The facilities were adequate for the level of care for which we provided," said Army Reserve Maj. Terry Kilpatrick, CA team leader. "There was an operating room, in which we performed major and minor surgery. The doctors had individual rooms to examine their patients and had separate storage rooms for keeping supplies. Also, keeping track of logistics, crowd control and the security of the area were much easier to maintain."
According to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Patricia Garner, general surgeon, she has done many MEDCAPs in her naval career, but this one was the first time she's actually performed surgery.
"I felt like I made a permanent difference in many people's lives there," said Garner, who spent her time in the operating room. "We had the opportunity to do an emergency cesarean-section on a woman and deliver her baby. The woman was hemorrhaging and might have even died if we were not there. The operation went well and it was a chance of a lifetime to experience that during a MEDCAP."
Garner added that when the military personnel entered Lamu, the local people were staring and hesitant to walk nearby. Three days later, those same people were waving and shouting for the troops not to leave.
Maintaining control outside and inside of the hospital was a platoon of Kenyan Department of Defense military. They provided security throughout the duration of the MEDCAP and stood guard for the American military personnel after hours.
"The external security that was provided by the KDoD was a tremendous help," commented Engeler. "In addition, we were very impressed with the outstanding level of support at every level - from the District Commissioner of Lamu to the medical and administrative director of the hospital.
"As a result of working in an organized environment, it allowed the medical team to get organized quickly, maintain positive control and see many more patients," he added.
Kilpatrick said many members of the CA team, that augmented the capabilities of the team, are medical professionals in their civilian jobs.
"We have several people who are emergency medical technicians, hospital administrators and medical supply specialists," explained Kilpatrick, who is a civilian operating room nurse who spent much of his time assisting in the surgery room. "It all helps tie in to the accomplishment of the mission."
Another important aspect of the Civil Affairs Special Operations Co. is the veterinarian services that are normally provided to the same areas MEDCAPs are held.
Army Reserve Lt. Col. Charles Johnson is the staff veterinarian who did a reconnaissance and evaluation of the local area while the MEDCAP was occurring. Johnson provided veterinarian services to not only the donkeys but other animals in the area, which is popular among local inhabitants.
The overall operation offered the District of Lamu the opportunity to receive medical and veterinarian attention otherwise not available.
"We believe the trip to Kenya was a resounding success," said Engeler. "It was not only exciting and rewarding to the CA team members, most of which who haven't been to Kenya before, but from a training perspective we learned a lot and have obtained more practical experience. Operating in this remote and austere environment was a positive experience for everyone, Kenyans and Americans alike."
The members of Lamu district health management team were thankful for the helpful service the military personnel provided the local community.
"We broadcasted the free medical program over the radio network and many people traveled across the district to be seen," said Dr. Kombo Muhammad, medical officer of health for Lamu. "We gained a lot of experience from the Civil Affairs team and we very much appreciate their effort in making this program successful in the Lamu district."