Texas Guardsmen partner with Chilean military during humanitarian relief effort
Story by: Sgt. Elizabeth Peña
Posted: Sept. 3, 2016
ISLA DE PASCUA, Chile – Thousands of local citizens lined the halls of the cramped hospital to receive medical treatment from Texas Guardsmen and Chilean Airmen during the five-day XXI Operative Medico-Dental Rapa Nui, Aug. 25 - Sept. 3, 2016, on Isla de Pascua, more commonly known as Easter Island.
“Our principle reason for being in Chile, and particularly Easter Island, was to validate and demonstrate in real time a seamless interoperability with our Chilean Air force medical counterparts,” said Texas Air National Guard George Ivanovski, commander of the 136th Medical Group, in Austin, Texas. “We actually worked side-by-side with them seeing patients.”
The joint Ministry of Health and Chilean Air Force event is designed to deliver medical specialty care to patients they may not otherwise have access to such as ophthalmology, optometry, minor surgery, ear nose and throat, dentistry, cardiology, and pulmonary medicine.
“Easter Island is quite isolated,” said Ivanovski. “The island is about 2500 miles from the mainland and is probably one of the most remote places on earth. It's 63 square miles of landmass with about 6,000 people living there.
Ivanovski acted as the Texas Air National Guard Liaison to the Chilean Air Force during the operation, and Lt. Col. Mark Davis, an optometrist with the 147th Medical Group in Houston, Texas, participated in aid during the humanitarian mission.
“I was working with six other ophthalmologist from Chile,” said Texas Air National Guard Mark K. Davis, optometrist for the 147th medical group, based in Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, in Houston, Texas. “We were doing both routine eye care glasses and secondary care which would be medications, eye disease and also doing tertiary care which is some cataract surgery.”
Easter Island does have its own medical facility but at times it can be overwhelmed.
“Even though it’s a full service hospital most of the positions are one deep and these guys are working 24/7, 365,” said Ivanovski. “Beyond seeing the islanders, once the travel season starts and cruise ships start arriving, the small hospital tends to get overwhelmed with a lot of additional people that are sick.”
During the mission, medical officials saw double of their expected locals.
“The original estimated number of patients was about 2700, they saw about 5700,” said Ivanovski. “So you’re looking at about a 50 percent increase and when you think about it that’s pretty much the whole island. They all showed up.”
This year marked the 21st iteration for the Chilean Air Force and the sixth year for Texas to participate through the State Partnership Program.
“They are very appreciative of us being there, said Ivanovski. “Chile is our sister state and we have a lot of things in common not only recently with our military
exchanges, but historically, so its important for us to keep up that relationship and continue to build on it.”
Davis has served in his career field for over 30 years but this mission gave him a new experience to take back home and share with his students.
“I teach at the University of Houston College of optometry,” said Davis. “You can teach your students about rudimentary eye care and taking care of people in areas of lower social economics but in the U.S. you still have equipment. This is an eye exam, I wouldn’t say in the jungle, but definitely in area with less equipment so it takes you back to the basics.”
The population on the Island is made up Chilean and Rapa Nui locals.
“Ninety-five percent of the island is Roman Catholic so the priest came out and blessed us,” said Davis. “At the index, they had a party for us and the civilians came out and cooked for us and the mayor was grilling tuna. They were so gracious.”
The Texas National Guard and Chile have been working together for more than seven years through the national states’ partnership program. The program is managed by the National Guard Bureau, and is designed to link each state’s National Guard with a partner nations’ military forces and government agencies in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.
“The Chileans and the patients thought it was great,” said Ivanovski. “This was not just a meet and greet event – this was a full up humanitarian operation, planned and executed much like you were rolling up into a disaster zone. It was truly awe inspiring to be a part of that.”