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Suriname--Beyond the Horizon

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Holbeck
  • 934th Aeromedical Staging Squadron
For two weeks, many members of the 934 ASTS, along with several augmentees, were deployed to Suriname, South America, to support the United States Southern Command mission known as Beyond the Horizon. Beyond the Horizon is a joint partnership between the United States and several Central and South American countries whose aim is to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Central and South America, including the nation of Suriname. 

The role of the 934 ASTS members was to work alongside the Surinamese military to provide dental, eye, veterinarian, pharmaceutical, and general health care to the people (and animals) of Suriname. The Beyond the Horizons program in Suriname has gained tremendous support from U.S. Ambassador to Suriname, Lisa Bobbie Schreiber Hughes, who personally came to witness the works of the deployed team on two occasions. 

Suriname is a small nation that lies just above the equator and shares a border with Brazil. It is a nation full of thick rain forests, exotic animals, and one of the most richly diverse cultures in the western hemisphere. The people were friendly, generous and gracious, making it a true pleasure to team up with their military and provide the healthcare they often required. 

The deployment, which took countless months to plan, was put together by the combined efforts of Maj. Jerry Hall and Master Sgt. Deb Broer of the 934 ASTS and Lt. Col. Luis Morales from Air Force Reserve Command headquarters who plays a key role in the AF International Health Specialist program, which works frequently with SouthCom to develop this type of humanitarian tour. Together, they mapped out the logistics of the mission, chose the team that would go, and determined the supplies that would be needed to successfully complete the mission. After many unplanned surprises, an ADVON team consisting of Master Sgts. Mark Flannery and Kathleen Gottschalk, 934 ASTS, headed for Suriname to prepare for what would be a tiring, yet rewarding mission.
For two weeks from July 26th-August 10th, the healthcare team assembled and provided care to over 3000 patients. Together, the group of reservists bonded together to form a team who would work together to accomplish their mission while also making lifelong friendships with each other and with the people of Suriname. 

An average day for the group in Suriname consisted of early morning bus rides along what may be the bumpiest road on the planet to a vacant school building, which each day was converted into a field hospital. Supplies were offloaded at each location as the group worked frantically every morning to turn classrooms into dental offices, pharmacies, doctor's offices, and administrative offices.
Once the site was set up, the doors opened and the patients came in droves. In the midst of hot, tropical days, the reservists worked tirelessly to give care to as many patients as possible. Working particularly hard was our dental team, which consisted of four 934 ASTS members, Lt Col Dave Doroff, Major Kevin Huether, Sergeant Gottschalk, and Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Stodula. Together, this team saw over 350 patients and extracted over 700 teeth. 

At the end of each workday, the reservists packed up the hospital supplies and left the site for their home base, which always seemed to be infinity miles of moon crater sized potholes when you were on the back of the bus.
Once at their housing assignments in the city of Moengo, the reservists spent their evenings discussing the days events, watching TV, running, walking, swimming, and taking much needed showers. While the deployment was two straight weeks of non-stop work, it was rewarding work that none of the deployed members will ever forget or regret.
The opportunity to assist our friends in such a far away and unique place is one that each member of the team should feel blessed to be a part of. From the amazing animals and plants of the jungle, to the surprisingly grateful and generous people, our trip to Suriname truly allowed us all to appreciate our works Beyond the Horizon.