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31st MEU takes medical and dental capabilities to old lands, new faces

15 Apr 2008 | Lance Cpl. Jason Spinella

High above the hills of Timor-Leste’s tropical jungles sits a small village whose inhabitants live modestly and whose children play freely with dozens of other children living among this rural community.  Some of the villagers are sick and many suffer from severe tooth decay, but their spirits are high despite what many outsiders may think of as an impoverished people.

 At the request of the government of Timor-Leste, the Marines and Sailors of Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, based out of Okinawa, Japan, conducted a Medical and Dental Civic Assistance Project, here, from April 15-18.  The project was conducted in order to maintain the MEU’s humanitarian assistance readiness and continue the ongoing commitment to the security and stability of local communities, here, and in the entire South East Asia region.

The project provided villagers an opportunity to receive medical and dental assistance for those with complications ranging from the common cold, severe lesions and dental problems.

According to Navy Lt. Todd Gregory, the 31st MEU surgeon, the medical attention provided during these projects is paramount for these villagers so they can live their day-to-day lives.

“Many of these great people work in the fields and must have a method to combat pain relief in order to continue to work so they can support their families,” said Gregory, a Chesapeake, Va. native. “Since many of the villagers are rarely receiving medical assistance, they come from all around just to get help with a common cold or headache.”

Along with the medical help, dental assistance went a long way as well.

For Evaristo Do Rego, a 45-year-old local villager, the dental operation came just in time.  “This is the first time someone has successfully fixed my teeth,” said Evaristo, a native of Fatulia, who had an abscess removed during the project. “In my entire life, this is the second time I have been to a dentist, and I am very grateful for the U.S. military to come to this small village, and provide the help many of us need.”

According to Contancio Zogose, the Fatulia village chief, Fatulia is the home to over 2,000 Timorese residents who are in need of an improved water system and other essential living commodities in order to improve the health problems currently being treated during these medical and dental operations.

“The village has many water problems, in turn, causing many health and dental problems, so these projects provide a perfect chance for many of the locals to get their teeth looked at and receive proper medical examinations,” said Zogose. “My people and I are very thankful that the U.S. forces are providing the medical and dental projects, and I hope this is not the last time we will see them.”

For many of the Sailors providing the vital care, the feeling is mutual. For Chief William Nicely, the Staff Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of the health service support platoon, CLB-31, 31st MEU, he feels both sides are benefiting from the experience.

“Anytime you can provide medical and dental assistance to a country in need, it’s an absolute honor,” said Nicely, a Delta, Ohio native. “The smiles on the children’s faces are more than enough to drive us to provide our services.”

Nicely added, “For people living with much less than what most Americans are used to, the happiness on these people’s face is amazing. The ironic part is, many children across the world dread going to the dentist, but these families come from miles out because the opportunity has risen.”

While the Marines and Sailors of the 31st MEU are ready to rise to the challenge and accomplish the mission, they are poised to continue promoting good health and friendships across the Asia-Pacific region.


31st Marine Expeditionary Unit