Thirty soldiers from the 730th Area Support Medical Company based in Vermillion have spent approximately two weeks providing a variety of medical services to the people of Haiti as part of the New Horizons humanitarian assistance exercise.
Units participating in the exercise, led by the Louisiana National Guard within the U.S. Southern Command area of operation, are currently providing critically-needed medical and engineering services to the country's capital of Port-au-Prince and the surrounding communities.
Maj. David Fossum, commander of the 730th and Brookings resident, said the initial plan was for the whole unit to conduct an overseas training mission in Suriname. The unit changed its focus to Haiti after an earthquake ravaged the country in January.
"We actually advertised ourselves in an attempt to get this mission," said Fossum. "Unfortunately, given the specific package requirements of a medical readiness training exercise, or MEDRETE, we could only take a specific number of people for the mission."
Members of the 730th performed their MEDRETE in the vicinity of Gonaives, which is approximately 150 miles north of the capital for approximately the last 10 days. They have provided promedical, dental, preventative medicine and veterinary services to the local population free of charge.
Spc. Jared Eslick-Coats, an Elk Point native and medic with the 730th, said last week his job will be to give shots, help dispense medication and run clinic operations the Haitians desperately need.
"For us, we take these services for granted. For them, well, they don't have it all," said Eslick-Coats, "so we're excited to get down there and give them something they really need: some real good medical and dental care."
Before leaving for Haiti, Fossum said his soldiers were very positive and excited about the exercise, and he was certain they would prove themselves assets to the mission.
"They're motivated, they've got high morale, they're good with their skills, and they're all really looking forward to this mission," said Fossum. "I'm very confident they're going to do an excellent job."
The mission objectives of these MEDRETEs are not only to provide U.S. military personnel training in the delivery of medical care in austere conditions, but to also promote diplomatic relations between the U.S. and host nations in Central America.
"I think we're going to have long-lasting memories, and will hopefully build ties with these types of missions," Fossum said. "This is a very good opportunity for our unit and for the South Dakota Guard."
Though the unit was scheduled to be on the ground for a two-week period, Fossum said unpredictable weather patterns common during this time of year could possibly change the mission and, therefore, the unit's time in country.
"One of the things that could really shift or change our mission is a hurricane," said Fossum. "Our mission initially is just medical readiness, but if a hurricane hits, we could do a relief or disaster recovery mission. We're prepared either way."