24th MEU (SOC) performs Med/Den CAPs in Kenya

9 Dec 2002 | Cpl. Jeff Sisto

Marines and Sailors of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) went ashore in Kenya to conduct Exercise Edged Mallet 2003 knowing they would have to overcome many challenges. As part of their humanitarian mission, members of the MEU's medical detachment were certain they would encounter many tropical diseases and other maladies common to this harsh environment.Although a dual terrorist attack occurred south of them in the city of Mombassa, the Marines and Sailors were undeterred in accomplishing their mission of providing medical and dental treatment to local residents of Manda Bay. With the weather alternating between a stifling sun and torrential downpours, medical personnel from MEU Service Support Group 24 set out with truckloads of supplies to begin a series of Medical and Dental Civil Affairs Projects."We came prepared for some of the common medical problems seen in the area," said Navy Lt. Min Kim, medical officer, MSSG-24, "Before we arrived we had a list of medicines that the Kenyans requested and a list of the most prevalent diseases.""Some of the common diseases here are malaria, intestinal worms, and schistosomiasis (liverfluke disease)," said Kim. "So far we have seen at least a dozen cases of each of those as well as a lot of insect bite victims.""The people here are exposed to harsh weather and a lot of hard labor," said Kim. "So we are also treating a lot of back and joint pain."At each site the MEU visited, patients waited in line for hours to be seen. Most of the patients were women and children."A lot of the children we see have trouble gaining weight. They have a loss of appetite and chronic diarrhea," said Kim. "We try to recommend things like using a clean water source, healthier diet, and regularly washing their hands and face."There were also a significant amount of dental patients that benefited from the MEU's presence. Over 300 people were treated for dental problems and over 50 teeth were pulled."We see a lot of patients who are experiencing pain from broken teeth and infections," said Navy Lt. Roman Farrar, dental officer, MSSG-24. "As a result, we do a lot of extractions." "Basic oral hygiene instruction is the best knowledge we can pass on," said Farrar. "We try to give out tooth brushes and tooth paste to all of the children we see."As the medical personnel worked on patients, other elements of MSSG-24 remained busy working on other aspects of the Med/Den CAP. Because of the bombings in Mombassa, a larger security element than normal augmented the medical personnel during their visits to the clinics. Military policemen were posted throughout the complex to assure that patients were safe and the medical supplies were secure."We provide external and internal security," said Lance Cpl. Scott Ballantine, military policeman, MSSG-24, from Worcester, Mass. "We conduct eyeball searches at all the entrances to make sure no one is carrying any weapons or boxes that could be bombs." To balance the amount of security present at the Med/Den CAPs, two chaplains were on site helping with the event."Having a chaplain involved is a calming presence for everyone involved," said LT Robert Fitkin, MSSG-24 Chaplain. "It puts the people at ease to see a familiar face after seeing armed Marines and trucks come in."All of the Med/Den CAPs performed proved to be both helpful to the local residents and rewarding for the 24th MEU (SOC). For some members of the MEU, conducting medical treatment in an impoverished country like Kenya was the highlight of their deployment and the sole reason for being out there."At the end of the night you go home exhausted, but satisfied that they got the treatment they needed," said HM2 Cameron Bird, Corpsman, MSSG-24, from Ellsworth, Maine. "It sort of justifies the amount of days you spend away from home."