Thousands of Moroccans say 'Thanks' to African Lion 2008

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Sterling Poulson
  • Utah ANG/PA
The 151st Medical Group returned in late June from a two-week deployment to the Kingdom of Morocco where they joined with other military units to perform a unique humanitarian mission. Close to 10,000 civilians received medical care from this exclusive unit during their visit.

The 151st Expeditionary Medical Group was formed specifically for this mission, and consisted of medical personnel from the Utah Air and Army National Guard, along with additional medical and support personnel from the Louisiana National Guard, U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force Reserve and the active-duty Air Force. The group was deployed to Guelmim, Morocco to perform training and humanitarian efforts in support of the joint exercise African Lion 2008.

Not far from Western Sahara, near the base of the Anti-Atlas Mountains, the men and women from the 151st EMG started their day nearly 6,000 miles from their home. Boarding a bus, they headed for the town of Laksabi about 15 kilometers down the road, one of five villages that they visited during the two-week deployment.

Months of planning and coordination had already taken place with the Utah National Guard and the Moroccan Army. Sites for the mobile clinic were located and secured, and enough equipment and supplies were carefully packed and transported to Guelmim, which served as a base of operations for the mission.

"For months we acquired, cleaned and assembled our equipment package," said Chief Master Sgt. Joe Guimond, 151 MG. "Not only equipment, but medications also had to be obtained. A good deal of it was purchased from a Moroccan pharmacy, but there were other donations from Globus Relief, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Humanitarian Center as well as private donations."

The bus arrived at a new school in the town of Laksabi. For days, the word of the medical group's arrival was advertised, and before the end of the day, many local residents had new glasses, extracted teeth, received medication for nagging pains and had a chance to discuss other ailments with a physician.

Within minutes of arriving at the facility, medical personnel took a quick survey of the available space and began unloading medical equipment and supplies to set up the mobile clinic. In less than 45 minutes, the group set up an operating dental exam room, several medical exam rooms, a pharmacy, and a triage where patients were screened for various illnesses.
"It's very rewarding just to interact with the people, especially the children...just getting to see their smiles," said Lt. Colonel Ron Ulberg, a 151 MG nurse assigned to triage.

At the end of the day, more that 1,000 patients were treated. As quickly as the energetic group assembled the clinic, the tired but still enthusiastic personnel dismantled it.

Communication was the most difficult obstacle faced when being deployed to Morocco, where the predominant languages are French, Arabic and Berber. However, the language barrier was overcome with the help of interpreters who not only helped with the planning stages, but also helped during the triage and treatment phases of the operation.

"Both sides benefit from this exchange," said Lt. Colonel Paul Byrd, Humanitarian Civil Assistance commander. "The military training received by members of the Utah Guard was invaluable. Our Moroccan counterparts were excellent medical practitioners and very gracious hosts and we were pleased to work with them."

The medical unit received a special visit by Brig. General David Hooper, Assistant Adjutant General for Air.

"It's a privilege to see our personnel working side by side with our Moroccan partners with a big smile on their faces, each one contributing to the success of the mission," he said.

Through the entire mission, more than 3,500 Moroccans received medical assistance.

According to U.S. State Department, Morocco was the first country to seek diplomatic relations with the U.S. government in 1777, and remains one of our oldest and closest allies in the region. Formal U.S. relations with Morocco date from 1787, when the two nations negotiated a Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which is still in effect today.