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Henrie back from South Dakota National Guard medical mission to Haiti

by Del Bartels

In some ways it was as I expected, but," said Terry Henrie, "Haiti is possibly the poorest country in the world. Seeing true poverty is like cold water in the face. People on a daily basis are just trying to survive."

Henrie and 29 other soldiers from the South Dakota Army National Guard's 730th Area Support Medical Company returned August 21, after two weeks of providing medical services to over 5,000 Haitian people.

The Vermillion based 730th was one of many units participating in the New Horizons humanitarian assistance exercise, led by the Louisiana National Guard, currently providing critically needed medical and engineering services to the communities of Haiti.

Maj. David Fossum, commander of the 730th, said that the unit, given the requirements of a medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, could take only a specific number of people for the mission. Of the 30 soldiers deployed, five were medical providers, two were dentists and the rest were emergency medical technicians. The 730th performed its MEDRETE in the area of Gonaives, approximately 150 miles north of the capital, providing free medical, dental and preventative medicine for the local population. The New Horizons mission objectives are to also promote diplomatic relations between the United States and host nations in Central America.

"People would start lining up at 7:00 at night to be in line for the next morning," said Henrie. "In eight and a half days, we treated over 5,000 patients. Our team consisted of five medical providers. The rest, EMTs, provided any assistance, including acting as pharmacists."

"The worst thing was that some people needed more advance help than we could provide. Though we had a lot of success stories, that was hard to handle," said Henrie. "The most heartening thing was that these extremely poor people were exceedingly gracious and courteous and yet proud. You could tell that they were wearing the very best they had. If nothing else, that is what will stick with me the most."

The unit flew commercial to Port-au-Prince, the capital of the earthquake devastated island country. A chinook helicopter was used to get the unit to the forward operating base. "It's a nice vehicle, nice ride, though you had to wear earplugs," said Henrie. "It's fairly open and we could see much of the countryside. It's an all-purpose carrier for cargo or troops. It has two blades, but also has a jet engine for a high rate of speed."

The base serves hundreds of engineers and other personnel who are building roads and schools, in addition to the medical mission. "Kids would gather outside the wire perimeter just to see and talk to Americans. They wanted to have fun," said Henrie. "The wire? It was a military installation. We had to take such measures, to protect ourselves and so things would not be taken. Whenever we traveled, we traveled with armed guards, though I never felt threatened and the people were extremely appreciative. Also, United Nations peacekeeping people took on crowd control, keeping the line in an orderly fashion so stronger patients might not push forward. The armed guard was simply to protect us, which brought a weird aspect, a strange dichotomy, to health care."

The unit rode on a bus for about 15 minutes to and from the field clinic. "We rode on kind of gravel roads. The bus ride was nice, though, it being the only air conditioning we had. The heat index would reach 126, with 100 to 105 degrees and 95 percent humidity. We joked that the heat was exceeded only by the stifling humidity."

"Haitian nursing students were allowed to work with us, not in direct care, but with preventative medicine. Everybody received toothbrushes and toothpaste, deworming medication and vitamins. Adults had classes on the importance of hygiene and reproductive health - how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Haiti is a poor country that has a lot of unexpected and unplanned pregnancies. The nursing students helped with these classes, which was a big help since none of us spoke French-Creo."

"One odd thing was that a lot of older people had lost track of their birthday and didn't know how old they were," said Henrie.

"There were a lot of families. A lot of them had never seen a health care provider or probably any kind of health care professional. Our unit's two dentists fixed or pulled more teeth than I could ever count," said Henrie. "The most common medical problem I saw