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Face of Defense: Airman Builds Medical Relationships in Vietnam

December 28, 2017

This report originally published at defense.gov.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga., Dec. 28, 2017 — An Air Force physical therapist stationed here was one of 50 U.S. team members who recently spent more than two weeks in Tam Ky, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, seeing patients and building relationships with local physicians.

“Each day we bused out to a government community center where we provided family health, pediatric care and physical therapy assistance and dental care,” said Maj. (Dr.) Cody Butler, commander of the 78th Medical Group Clinical Medicine Flight.

“We would start seeing patients at about 7:30 in the morning and ran all day long,” Butler said.

Humanitarian Assistance Engagements

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His efforts were part of Operation Pacific Angel Vietnam 2017 — the last of four humanitarian assistance engagements that made up PACANGEL 17.

The program, which has been going on for a decade now, ensures that the militaries of various countries in the Pacific region are able to work together should a humanitarian assistance need arise. One of Robins Air Force Base’s physicians was given the opportunity to take part in the program, which is typically only attended by members of U.S. Pacific Command.

“I saw between 50 and a hundred patients a day,” Butler said. “To put that in perspective, I see about 10 to 15 a day while working at Robins.”

Building Relationships

The overall goal of PACANGEL was to try and build international relationships with the people of Vietnam. In addition to medical care, the team was able to go on a few evening excursions and experience the country outside of the treatment areas.

“It was interesting to see things like memorials and Viet Cong tunnels from their standpoint, where everything was, ‘The war against the Americans,’” Butler said. “So it was interesting seeing this communist country with statues and pictures of their leader Ho Chi Min everywhere as we’re trying to break the ice with these people.”

Butler said he interacted with some of the local Vietnamese physicians.

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“In Vietnam, physical therapy is not well utilized — people can’t afford it,” he said. “So, being able to teach these physicians some techniques and tricks of my trade, and then seeing them try it on patients, it was really neat to see them now have another option of care to provide to their patients.”

PACANGEL 17 conducted humanitarian assistance engagements in Bogo City and San Remigio, Northern Cebu Province, Philippines; Northern and Western Divisions, Fiji; and Gorkha, Nepal.

Butler said that by participating in humanitarian missions such as this, the Air Force is able to reinforce its capabilities to deliver assistance to areas that need it.

“You typically think of the pilots or launching satellites as making the difference,” he said. “But even us medics, we’re there to soften the hearts of the people and provide a service that only we could offer.”

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