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Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernesto A. Soberano, a dental hygienist assigned to Task Force 2d Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, performs a dental exam on an Afghan patient during a Medical Capabilities (MEDCAP) health cooperative held Aug. 24 in Delaram. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Steve Cushman)

Photo by Cpl. Steve Cushman

Task force's medical assistance for Afghans tips scales

16 Sep 2008 | Cpl. Steve Cushman

Local Afghans recently flocked to a renovated boys’ school here seeking help for a variety of ailments.

Providing care to more than 180 patients, Marines and sailors assigned to Task Force 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, hosted the third major Medical Capabilities, or MedCap, health operative to reach out to Afghan residents requiring medical and dental care.

As infantrymen assigned to Company G provided security on the outside of the school, Marines and sailors from 3rd Civil Affairs Group and the Battalion Aid Station, respectively, were inside administering examinations and handing out medications.

Because the civil affairs team cannot provide a normal clinic setting where they can regularly follow-up with their Afghan patients, they focus on providing preventative health care and symptomatic treatment.

“What we can do is provide cold medicines and pain medications,” said Navy Lt. Robert E. Benowicz, a medical officer and Portland, Ore., native. “Because of the high infant mortality rates in the area, we also give the women prenatal vitamins.  But, more importantly, we try to educate the locals on the importance of having a good diet and nutrition and also good hygiene practices.”

“We also see a lot of malnutrition, so we give the adults multi-vitamins and the children vitamins and iron supplements to fight effects from not eating properly,” Benowicz said.

Residents who are financially stable have access to medical care.  The vast majority, however, don’t have good access. 

“The first time, we had so many children who had stomach issues and malnutrition,” said Seaman Michael McCarthy, a corpsman assigned to Combined Anti-Armor Team 2 and a Newport, R.I., native. “We’ve seen some improvements, especially with teaching them to live a little healthier lifestyle.  They may not have a lot of access to vegetables or other nutritious foods, but trying to get them to get a more varied diet is what we’ve been teaching them.  That’s probably the best improvement we see.”

Many of the people who came to the MedCap don’t have a good concept of healthy living. Whether it’s as simple as showing the Afghans how to take better care of their teeth and gums, eat healthier foods, or how to take proper care of their wounds, these simple lessons are an important aspect of hosting the MedCaps.

“As far as health is concerned, we try to teach them dental hygiene. They also have a poor concept of how to take care of wounds,” McCarthy explained. “They’ll cut themselves and the next thing you know, they have some serious infections.  Each time they come in with bad infections, we try to teach them that if they have a cut or burn, this is how they need to clean it if they don’t want another infection.”

The people, some traveling as far as 300 kilometers, seemed quite excited to take advantage of the MedCap.  Through radio messages and by word of mouth, news that the Marines would be back to host another MedCap spread quickly. 

“We are having greater turnouts with each major MedCap we host,” Benowicz said. “The people are hearing good things about what we’re providing to them.  They understand the Americans are here to help them.  We’ve been building good relationships with the locals… this is a good way to show that we’re here to stay and to help the people out.”

The CAG team has hosted several MedCaps, varying in size.  While some are much smaller than the ones held here in Delaram, each MedCap has turned into a learning experience for the Marines and sailors supporting the MedCaps.  In the first two major MedCaps, it was discovered that most of the people complained of dental pain.  Consequently, a dental hygienist was included to help in this area.

“This is the first MedCap with dental support,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernesto A. Soberano, a registered dental hygienist and Vacaville, Calif., native. “Most of the people have some form of gingivitis or other gum disease.  In general, they have bad oral hygiene practices.”

As the CAG team examined the Afghan patients, they referred those with either missing or rotten teeth to Soberano.  In addition to providing examinations and treatments, Soberano handed out toothbrushes and other oral hygiene supplies.

The MedCaps are one of many civil military operations projects conducted by TF 2/7 reaping immediate success.  Despite threats of harm by Taliban forces, more Afghans have come forward to take advantage of the help being offered them.

“My team’s job out here is to tip the scales in our favor,” said Gunnery Sgt. Omar Palaciosreal, team chief for CAG Team 2 and a Moreno Valley, Calif., native. “People are the center of gravity; we know that.  Every day that we do a good deed or show the people that we care and that we want the best for them and their interest, we’re tipping the scales in our favor.”