Exercise African Lion 17 provides crucial medical care for Moroccan communities

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Annie Edwards
  • 151st Air Refueling Wing

More than 60 members of the Utah and Colorado National Guard and Air Force Reserve worked in conjunction with an equal number of Moroccan counterparts as well as health providers from the U.S. Embassy in Rabat to provide humanitarian assistance in rural areas as part of Exercise African Lion 17, April 16-29.

Airmen conducted six clinics bringing much needed medical and dental services to more than 5,500 people in villages around the city of Tata. The group was able to provide basic medical care, manage minor medical needs, as well as refer patients to receive further care in other medical facilities in Morocco.

In each village the Airmen and their Moroccan counterparts set up a clinic and prepared to receive patients. In addition to general medicine and dentistry, they set up several specialty clinics including optometry, pediatrics, gynecology, cardiology and pulmonology, internal medicine, and ear, nose and throat. They also set up a pharmacy to dispense medications and medical supplies.

“It’s great for our healthcare professionals because they get to practice their craft in a location that’s different than what they’re used to, and in that way it prepares us for our wartime mission and for homeland response duties in the event that we ever have to do that,” said Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, Adjutant General of the Utah National Guard.

While training focused on patient care in austere environments, it also fostered cooperation and provided an opportunity for medical personnel to share knowledge of medical and dental techniques to further the relationship between the U.S. and Morocco.

A challenge for Staff Sgt. Erik Bornemeier, a 151st Medical Group medical technician, was the limited scope of practice.

“This is rural medicine, you have to get creative on interventions and then getting patients to higher care,” said Bornemeier. “Sometimes that’s a challenge, but this is a start.”

In the dental clinic Airmen conducted extractions, restorative work, cleanings and preventative care.

Tech. Sgt. Christina Luna, a 140th Medical Group dental technician, provided oral hygiene education to dental patients as well as other members of the local population. In conjunction with this education, the group handed out more than 4,000 kits containing donated toothbrushes and toothpaste.

“We are treating our patients, but preventing recurring disease is going to be one of the driving factors in keeping people healthy and happy,” said Luna.

Luna added that working with the local populations was very rewarding. She said that adults and children were both very kind and patient throughout her experience and very appreciative of the care they received.

Utah’s 151st Medical Group made up the main component of the medical team, providing 48 personnel as well as conducting the planning and logistical elements of the mission. Medical personnel from the Colorado Air National Guard’s 140th Medical Group and the Air Force Reserve’s 419th Medical Squadron joined the Utah Airmen.

Utah and Morocco have been state partners through the National Guard’s State Partnership program since 2003.

(Editor’s Note: Exercise African Lion is an annually scheduled, bilateral U.S. and Moroccan sponsored exercise designed to improve interoperability and mutual understanding of African partner nation's (APN) tactics, techniques and procedures.)