Like an act of God, Medical, dental corpsmen help local Dili orphanage, medical clinic in East Timor

12 Sep 2000 | 1stLt. Jeff Landis

The thick heat and humidity of a Sunday afternoon in Dili did not deter the efforts of a few medical and dental corpsmen from MEU Service Support Group (MSSG) 13, the Combat Service Support Element of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (Special Operations Capable (SOC)), Sept. 10, at the Queen of the Rosary Orphanage.Although a day of rest for most, the medical and dental teams found it a divine day to perform wellness checks and dental exams on more than 160 children. The teams also performed medical and dental missions at the Motael clinic in Dili Sept. 11, alongside East Timor's only doctor and only dentist in country. The team saw 55 patients at Motael, and performed 16 tooth extractions. Members of the medical and dental team are part of an advance liaison team from 13th MEU (SOC) and the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), preparing for humanitarian assistance missions in East Timor Sept. 14-16. The 13th MEU (SOC) and Tarawa ARG's presence in East Timor will serve as a demonstration of the United States' commitment to East Timor's transition to independence, while continuing the rotational unit assistance to United States Group East Timor (USGET). Marines and Sailors from 13th MEU (SOC) and Tarawa ARG will provide sealift and heavy lift helicopter support and medical, dental, engineering and community relations projects in East Timor."We appreciate you working with us," said Lucio Babo Soares, the only medical doctor in East Timor, to the medical/dental team. "Our language may be very different, but the language we do understand is medical, which is good for all our patients."Although there is a lack of good medical and dental care in East Timor, the orphans are well taken care of in the custody of a few nuns who run the Queen of the Rosary Orphanage."These kids are actually in pretty good health," said Army Capt. Chris Johnson, a sanitary engineer and medical planner for USGET. "They look much better than other kids we've seen around Dili. I think the important concept we're promoting here is good health and good oral hygiene."The children of the orphanage, ranging from age 1 to 15, were eager to meet the medical/dental team and members of the USGET staff to share a smile. Some were a little hesitant at first to be seen, but Doc Ellenbecker and Navy Dentalman Israel Villareal put them at ease by presenting them the basics of good oral hygiene in a cartoon drawing."I don't get to see kids much," said Navy LT Jon Ellenbecker, a dental officer with MSSG-13. "These kids are at a formative age, and teaching them about good hygiene and good habits like brushing regularly is something they'll learn quickly and take to heart." Simultaneously, Navy LT Jarred Antevil, medical officer with MSSG-13, Hospital Corpsman First Class (SS) Steven Johnson, independent duty corpsman with USGET, and Mark Alonzo, a physician's assistant with DynCorp, performed wellness checks on the children. Later, the dental teams linked up with their Australian counterparts to share information and perform necessary extractions."It is very kind of the United States to do this," said Maria Concita (Puteri Reinha Rosari), head nun at the orphanage. "We appreciate everything you're doing, and we're glad you're here." Many of the orphans' parents were killed during the independence movement, so the impact of the 13th MEU (SOC) and USGET visit to the orphanage was overwhelming."This is awesome to be able to do this for them," said Ellenbecker, a 27-year-old native of Pierre, S.D. "It's been one of the most rewarding things we've done."
13th Marine Expeditionary Unit