McConnell doctor travels to promote partnerships, humanitarian efforts

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – The U.S. military is known for its prowess in dealing with threats with a clenched fist, as well as assisting the less fortunate with an open hand. Approaching each, often requires traveling to distant lands.

Lt. Col. Daniel LaMothe, 22nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander, recently traveled to Philippines and Honduras to strengthen partnerships with their Ministries of Health and military with his medical background.

In May, he traveled to what was previously Clark Air Base in Philippines for two weeks as part of BALIKATAN 2017.

“The mission was to engage with our partner nations and provide training opportunities for them to increase interoperability and to improve their capability,” said LaMothe.

Earlier in his career, the eye surgeon was a combat medic with Air Force Special Operations Command, which provided him with crucial skills to contribute to the exercise.

LaMothe traveled to Philippines alone, but met with a diverse set of professionals to collaborate. The group was comprised of Philippine pararescuemen, special operations group forces, and Contingency Response Group Airmen from Kadena Air Base, Japan and Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

“We were able to share a lot of experiences and knowledge [with one another] - from our standpoint of how we do things and our processes to how the Philippine Air Force manages,” he said.

The coalition performed mass casualty training and casualty evacuation operations which involved loading and unloading helicopters, public health post disaster recovery and psychological treatment after dealing with traumatic events such as terrorist attacks, said LaMothe.

“It had been a while since I had performed a lot of these tasks, so for the opportunity to go back and implement them was a great experience,” he said.

Two months later, LaMothe participated in the Military Tropical Medicine course through the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. The 150 students received training in identifying and treating infectious diseases through four weeks of lectures and laboratories.

As the academics came to an end, students were placed into groups of eight to ten then dispersed to different countries. His group was sent to Honduras for 10 days, where they would go from village to village and clinic to clinic to test locals for malaria and report their findings to the Honduran Ministry of Health.

“We visit these host nations in concert with whatever the nation’s Ministry of Health or Department of Health would like us to do,” said Lamothe. “We were asked to test in their population, they try to test 10 percent of the population each year.”

The small medical team spent their time in Northeast Honduras, also known as ‘Mosquito Coast.’

The crew was often covered in mosquito-net jackets, permethrin clothing and repellant to keep the blood-suckers at bay; unlike the locals who live in poverty and are barely clothed at all. Which makes avoiding the pests impossible. Being completely vulnerable to mosquitos, there are many cases of the Zika virus, Dengue fever, malaria, leishmaniosis, Chagas and chikungunya.

To identify malaria, the team examined blood samples, trapped mosquitos and examined larvae in water sources.

“We tested the water supply of the hospital for malaria,” LaMothe said. “Even the hospital has malaria larvae in it.”

As a developing nation, Honduras cannot test and treat the population and the many diseases that come with the land.

“[Honduras] has amazingly trained docs and nurses, but not a lot of resources,” he said. “The trip emphasized just how blessed we are and showed me there are ways that we can impact their lives and serve our strategic national interests.”

Both parties were able to benefit from his trip, he assisted the Honduran Ministry of Health and learned how to better treat American and ally troops when they encounter similar diseases.

“Our mission in Honduras and the Philippines is more than just going out and having the experience, testing malaria or having the experience of teaching casualty evacuation,” he said. “The goal is to develop this partnership and relationship, to collaborate and grow together, to strengthen our ability to use our national influence in a positive way and to provide security. Both of these trips allowed me to feel a part of that strategy.”