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Medical readiness training exercises provide a win-win situation

Medical readiness training exercises provide a win-win situation

Looking to the future

02/19/2010  |  Lorraine Murphy DHS Systems LLC

Humanitarian assistance exercises have long been a key component of the efforts of U.S. military forces stationed around the world – offering aid to impoverished areas and allowing troops to practice the execution of various types of operations.  

 One example of this can be seen in United States Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) area of responsibility, where personnel have been conducting medical readiness training exercises, also known as MEDRETEs, for nearly 20 years.

Part of SOUTHCOM’s efforts to promote security and stability across the Americas, MEDRETEs, which are regularly held across Central America and the Caribbean, have proven imperative to enhancing U.S. relations throughout the region while providing military medical personnel with the skills they’ll need during a real-life mission.

Since the program’s inception nearly 20 years ago, SOUTHCOM has conducted more than 225 MEDRETEs and treated more than 328,000 patients. Such numbers have helped the program meet its objective of aiding foreign nations while further training U.S. military officials.


Preparation for a Real-World Situation

MEDRETEs are SOUTHCOM-sponsored exercises designed to improve U.S. personnel’s ability to treat patients in an austere environment while working with foreign military forces and agencies to provide free medical care to local civilians. First conducted by SOUTHCOM subordinate Joint Task Force-Bravo’s Medical Element in Honduras in 1993, today’s exercises include personnel stationed throughout the region, as well as participants, often from the National Guard and Reserve, from military installations across the United States. The program has also evolved to include exercises in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Columbia, Costa Rica and Panama.


During MEDRETEs, military medical personnel are given the task of establishing a temporary clinic, complete with the equipment and supplies needed to treat patients. Once inside the clinic, troops may be expected to perform a wide of range of treatments, from general and preventive medicine to dental care to optometry, alongside local officials.

Surgical teams also participate in the exercises, assisting in such procedures as plastic surgery for cleft lip and palate and burns, hand reconstruction and orthopedic surgery.

One Mission, Many Benefits

Since the program’s inception nearly 20 years ago, SOUTHCOM has conducted more than 225 MEDRETEs and treated more than 328,000 patients. Such numbers have helped the program meet its objective of aiding foreign nations while further training U.S. military officials.

MEDRETEs bring highly-skilled doctors, dentists, nurses and other medical personnel to some of the most isolated areas of Central America and the Caribbean, providing care to thousands of people living in countries that at times lack the money to afford sufficient staff, equipment, medicine and supplies in their medical facilities.

U.S. personnel, in turn, are given the chance to work in conditions similar to those they would experience during a disaster relief mission, or while deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

By working alongside foreign officials, such as the Ministry of Health and other government and civilian agencies, U.S. military medical personnel learn to take part in joint operations regardless of any language barriers. Soldiers are often provided with less technically-advanced equipment from those used in the United States as well, forcing them to use techniques no longer commonly used to treat patients in the U.S.

Forward-Deployed Facilities

While performing among such disparities in culture and technology provides personnel with significant lessons to bring to future missions, perhaps the greatest experience gained, however, comes from creating an aseptic environment in which they can treat patients regardless of the surrounding area. Though health officials often allow medical staff to use space in permanent, pre-existing facilities, such as local schools and hospitals, some exercises call for personnel to set up a mobile facility that could be transported to even the most remote areas of Central America and the Caribbean in the event of a disaster.

One mobile facility regularly deployed as part of MEDRETEs is the Deployable Rapid Assembly Shelter, more commonly known as DRASH. The soft-walled shelter system, which is one of the standard systems in use by U.S. Military Aid Stations, FSTs and C-Meds around the world, can be set up by minimal personnel within minutes without the need for any special tools, and be equipped with generators, environmental control units, lighting and other support equipment to create a fully operational medical facility.

Most recently, in December, JTF-Bravo’s Mobile Surgical Team set up a DRASH medical facility to perform minor “surgeries” during a training exercise at Soto Cano Air Base. The shelters were outfitted with all of the tools needed to treat patients, including medical equipment and cots, as well as a 40-kilowatt generator.

Looking to the Future

As the United States military continues its global presence, humanitarian assistance programs and exercises will continue to be crucial to enhancing U.S. relations around the world.

In Central America, SOUTHCOM has proven that real-life response and recovery missions, such as the current relief efforts taking place in Haiti following January’s devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, as well as joint exercises like MEDRETEs, can aid impoverished parts of the world while also preparing personnel for future missions at home and on the battlefield.

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