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Home > UNS > 140423-01


Salvadoran forces, SOCSOUTH give aid to poor farming communities

by Sgt. 1st Class Alex Licea
Special Operations Command South

METAPAN, El Salvador (USASOC News Service, April 23, 2014) - For Juanita Isabella Portio, her husband, three children and four grandchildren, this Medical Civic Action Program or MEDCAP couldn’t have come at a better time.

Juanita’s husband is a truck driver and his eye vision is not the best, which makes it dangerous to be on the road for him and other commuters. However, thanks to this event, he now has eyeglasses to better see the roads and can continue to work to support his family.

Like many families, the Portio family lives in an impoverished village across the vast countryside of the Santa Ana Department, located on the northeast section of the country near the Guatemalan border.

With a monthly income of just $60 a week, her family, like most in the area, can’t afford medication, eyeglasses or proper health care.

Juanita and her family were just a few of more than 500 residents who received free medical services focused on general medicine, optometry and dentistry during the daylong MEDCAP, April 10.

The MEDCAP was organized and hosted by the Salvadoran military, with support from the city’s municipal government, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador and U.S. Special Operations Command South, based in Homestead, Fla.

The U.S. Embassy in El Salvador donated $15,000 worth of medical supplies for the event as well as educational supplies for the local school where the MEDCAP was being held.

The Central American nation faces ongoing concerns such as public insecurity, illicit trafficking, organized crime, economic stagnation and poverty.

This event illustrates the ongoing efforts the government is making to improve access to life-sustaining medications and the quality of life for residents living in these under governed and under resourced areas.

“We care for our community, and we understand the needs of the people here,” said Salvadoran Col. Carlos Ernesto Monterrosa, the commander of the 2nd Inf. Bn. “We want to make sure the people of Metapán know we are here for them, and we want to make a positive impact on their lives.”

Along with helping the local citizens, the MEDCAP allowed the Salvadoran military to assess the security in the area and observe for any suspicious activity. Due to the close proximity to Guatemala and its porous, mountainous borders, the area has been used as an illicit trafficking route for drugs and arms throughout Central America on its way to Mexico and the U.S.

“This terrain is very difficult to patrol because of the mountains,” said Monterrosa. “In order for us to combat trafficking, we have to make sure we gain the trust of the people and they feel confident when they talk to us. It all starts with trust.”

This MEDCAP was something soldiers assigned to El Salvador’s 2nd Infantry Battalion took very seriously and planned for several weeks with assistance from a U.S. Civil Affairs team assigned to Company B, 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 85th CA Brigade.

The U.S. CA team has been diligently working with its partners across the country for the past seven months and assisting the partner nation’s military to coordinate and establish relations with a number of different government agencies and civic groups to strengthen El Salvador’s whole-of-government approach.

“They [2nd Inf. Bn.] are very proactive in located the problems of each community, and we have established great relationships with many organizations despite some early growing pains in the beginning,” said U.S. Army Capt. Bayron Zuniga, CA team leader. “We all take great pride in the work that we do because we are helping people in the forgotten areas.”

The Fort Stewart, Ga.;-based battalion was established a little over a year ago. It’s deployment in support of SOCSOUTH and U.S. Southern Command’s ongoing efforts to build partner nation capacity and deter illicit trafficking across the Caribbean, Central and South America marks the first deployment in its history.

Along with the MEDCAP, a Veterinary Civic Action Program, or VETCAP was also held throughout a three-day span from April 8-10. The VETCAP allowed Salvadoran veterinarians, with U.S. assistance, to strengthen their capabilities, ensure the health of livestock, enhance agriculture and economic stability in the Santa Ana Department, and develop trust and confidence with the Metapán farming community.

Three teams of veterinarians throughout the VETCAP mainly focused on preventative treatments by administering de-worming and anti-parasite medication, and gave vitamin supplements for continued health and growth of livestock. More than 1,000 animals were treated during the three-day event.

Standing at just five feet tall, 85-year-old farmer Martin Vincent was one of those farmers. Walking the grounds of his tiny farm and gripping a black rope, the grandfather of 45 was very grateful for the care that his cows and bulls received.

“I’m very thankful for what these veterinarians are doing for my family and I,” he said. “I can’t thank our veterinarians and the U.S. Army enough for their assistance.”

American troops will continue to work with their Salvadoran partners in an “advise and assist” capacity for the coming days and months. The U.S. CA team said they felt a great sense of confidence with the skills and professionalism of their partners.

“They [2nd Inf. Bn.] have a great reputation, and it has been a privilege for us to work with them,” said Zuniga. “They see the benefits of what they are doing, and we are all committed to this mission especially in these under governed areas.”

Life will undoubtedly continue to be tough in this farming community. Resources are scarce and services are seldom.

But on this day, all of that was forgotten and Juanita and her family were filled with joy and appreciation.

“This is truly a blessing,” said the enthusiastic women carrying free medicine in both hands. “We really needed this medicine. It’s days like these that remind us that there are good people in the world.”