Civil Affairs in Colombia
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
SFC Figueroa from SOCSOUTH sends along another piece to add to our series on child abuse by the US military around the globe. Actually the fact that our military does more humanitarian work than it ever gets credit for.
SOCSOUTH Civil Affairs team helps bring medicine, doctors to flood damaged area
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jason B. Baker
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (USASOC News Service, Jan. 28, 2008) – The sounds of laughter and salsa music rise from a small private campground on the edge of the river outside the small town of Malambo, Colombia. Though the atmosphere is light, the work going on inside the campground is serious.
Under the operational control of Special Operations Command South, a team of U.S. Army Civil Affairs (CA) Soldiers from the 98th CA Battalion, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), coordinated with the Colombian Air Force and other agencies to help provide medical assistance to a flood damaged region of northern Colombia and continued to enhance the capabilities of an already capable Colombian military.
“The MEDCAPs (Medical and Civic Assistance Program missions) are the best way we can get into the parts of Colombia that are usually not reached by the government or military,” said one of the CA non-commissioned officers. “We are able to bring a non-threatening group that helps the people in the area and that way help establish a Colombian military footprint in an area.”
“Though Civil Affairs is equipped and trained to conduct a variety of operations, such as managing and overseeing construction projects, the success of the Colombian government and its military have made other missions not as necessary,” said the CA team leader. Unlike some of the other places CA Soldiers are found throughout the world, in Colombia many of the larger projects can be turned over to other government agencies working through the U.S. State Department.
Locals fill up seats in a waiting area set up by the Colombian Air Force. Soldiers from a Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) civil affairs team work with the Colombian Air Force to provide medical support to the town of Molambo in the northeast region of Colombia. The CA soldiers coordinated with other organizations to bring volunteer doctors and medical workers, as well as provided equipment and medication during the two-day mission that helped nearly 1,500 Colombians in an area disrupted by recent flooding. (U.S Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason B. Baker, USASOC PAO)
The soldiers assisted with the physical set-up of the site and then the operation of the pharmacy, with the majority of their efforts focused on preparation of the actual mission.
Weeks before an actual CA mission is conducted, the CA team receives a
request for support from the Colombian military. The next step is the
deployment of the CA team to the location to conduct a reconnaissance
and assessment of the area. The team meets with local civil and
military officials to determine what facilities the Colombians can
provide for the doctors. The team will determine what the most common
ailments are, so the team can coordinate for the proper medical
specialists and provide appropriate medications. They also assess the
necessary security requirements during the operation and determine
whether or not the physical site will accommodate all of the patients,
doctors and equipment.
The Colombians, with the assistance of the U.S. CA team, were able to help more than 1,400 locals over the course of a day and a half during this particular mission. The 19 volunteer doctors brought a variety of specialties, from optometry, pediatrics, dentistry, gynecology and general medicine.
Hundreds of children, adults, and elderly waited patiently in the humid tropical air to be seen by the doctors, who worked in small bungalows transformed into examination rooms. “For many of the patients, it was the only opportunity they would have to see specialists like optometrists, gynecologists and dentists,” said Enrique Martin, logistics director, Colombian Civil Air Patrol. His organization assists young Colombian doctors in fulfilling their national obligation to do a year of volunteer service work upon completing their medical schooling.
Bringing a group like Martin’s together with the Colombian military to engage and assist the general public is the epitome of the civil affairs effort in Colombia and focuses on bringing Government of Colombia presence into remote areas. These efforts do not go unnoticed by the Colombian military or people.
Major Mayerlin Galindo, civil military operations officer, described
the impact of this experience. “Thanks for the unconditional support of
the American government. We feel very accomplished and satisfied to
have this kind of contact and support, because sometimes our own forces
are insufficient. And we need this type of vehicle and our forces to
reach (out to the people) for the better of our community.”
A young mother who received medication for her sick young child expressed her appreciation to the Colombian Air Force for the service she received. “I feel very good and satisfied with the help on behalf of the Air Force,” said Stefany through a translator when asked about the service she received that day. “We are very humble people and we really appreciate all the help we received.”
For the CA team leader, seeing the finished product come together was most gratifying. “Personally being out here, working and seeing the children who are being helped by the pediatric doctors and seeing the adults who may never have had the opportunity to receive medical care is very satisfying,” said the CA team leader. “Also being able to see the positive reaction the people have to the Colombian Air Force really helps me to see the effect our work is having. It really shows the positive direction we are going and what can be accomplished when the U.S. and Colombia work together.”
“The CA team appreciates the small victories and realizes that their
goals are part of a long-term objective,” said the captain. It is
important to see the long-term objective of the U.S. State Department
and Special Operations Command-South, and only through these constant
engagements will the goal of a completely safe and secure Colombia be
The Malambo mission was one more step in that direction by successfully facilitating a positive engagement between the Colombian military and the people they serve.
A young girl has her height and weight measured prior to a pediatric examination. Soldiers from a Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) civil affairs team works with the Colombian Air Force to provide medical support to the town of Molambo in the northeast region of Colombia. The CA Soldiers coordinated with other organizations to bring volunteer doctors and medical workers and provided equipment and medication during the two-day mission that helped nearly 1500 Colombians in an area disrupted by recent flooding. (U.S Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason B. Baker, USASOC PAO)
A volunteer doctor conducts an eye exam during a medical capabilities mission. Soldiers from a Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) civil affairs team works with the Colombian Air Force to provide medical support to the town of Molambo in the northeast region of Colombia. The CA Soldiers coordinated with other organizations to bring volunteer doctors and medical workers and provided equipment and medication during the two-day mission that helped nearly 1500 Colombians in an area disrupted by recent flooding. (U.S Army Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jason B. Baker, USASOC PAO)