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Photo Information

Navy LT Maria Sanchez, dental officer with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and native of Aurora, Ill., works on extracting a rotted tooth from a Filipino local during the medical/dental civil affairs project here, Oct. 10. The two-day medical and dental aid evolution provided free healthcare to the local communities where such treatment is not readily available. The MED/DENCAP was in support of the 31st MEU's Amphibious Landing Exercise, an an annually-scheduled exercise between the U.S. and Philippine forces, aimed at strengthening military-to-military interoperability and bilateral relationships.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

31st MEU wraps up medical aid projects in Palawan

16 Oct 2012 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

With remaining medication and dental supplies on hand, Sailors with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit completed their second of two medical and dental civil affairs projects at the Tagburos Elementary School here, Oct. 16.

Similar to their previous MED/DENCAP operation at the Macarascas Elementary School on Oct. 10 and 11, the medical personnel processed and treated Filipino locals from across the city as they came for free medical aid.

"It really shows us the need for basic medical care that these people have," said Navy LT Maria Sanchez, dental officer with the 31st MEU. "It's a big eye-opener to leave a high-tech facility and set up shop like this and see an almost endless line of people with some sort of medical concern."

Patients were first logged administratively before their vitals were taken. From there, they were directed to their respective practitioner, though many saw both medical and dental rooms for treatment.

Yet these medical aid events are a give-and-take process for the Sailors. While the overall projects are geared toward the treatment of the local Filipinos, the MEU personnel see a side of Navy medicine they rarely see in garrison, providing a prime opportunity for the Sailors.

"Back on Camp Hansen, it's a very controlled environment at a slower pace," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Gregory Lafer, corpsman with the 31st MEU and native of Staten Island, NY. "So coming to the Philippines where there are more than 1,000 patients at each site needing medical attention, it is a great environment for us to be working and training in."

The opportunity for free, high quality medical attention accommodated the large number of patients from all corners of the city; distance being no obstacle for medicine.

Such was the case of nine-year-old Aldhea, who walked for five hours to get to the Tagburos Elementary School to see Sanchez about her rotting tooth. As her parents were tending to the family farm, she made the journey alone. The tooth was too deteriorated to be saved, and Aldhea didn't feel any pain following the extraction; the root was long dead.

"What we would call for an emergency dental operation back in the States is commonplace for them," said Sanchez, a native of Aurora, Ill. "So the fact that we get to come here to help, if only once or twice a year, makes a tremendous difference in itself."

Although the MEU Sailors were aided by a Philippine Navy and Marine Corps medical staff, the flow of patients was nearly overwhelming as the outdoor walkways held congested lines of Filipino locals. However, the medical force was able to quickly and efficiently see almost all that came, stopping only when supplies were exhausted.

At the end of the Tagburos MED/DENCAP, a total of 2413 patients were seen over the course of the two events with many more practitioner referrals, meaning that one patient saw both medical and dental clinics.

PHIBLEX, now in its 29th iteration, is an annually-scheduled bilateral exercise
between the U.S. and Philippine forces, aimed at increasing interoperability and strengthening a long standing relationship.

The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit