A recently announced duty assignment at a medical clinic in Cuba is just one of many humanitarian assignments for members of a Hill Air Force Base medical team.
A doctor, physician assistant and four medical technicians from the 649th Medical Group were notified earlier this week they would spend up to six months on the staff of a mobile medical clinic being established to provide medical attention to the hundreds of Cuban and Haitian refugees being housed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.They were still awaiting travel orders Friday but were told they would report for duty at the American naval base by Monday.
Senior Airman David Paschke said duty away from home station is standard fare in the military, but he believes the members of the 649th Medical Group were chosen for the assignment because of their skills and willingness to participate in the humanitarian mission.
Paschke spent a year in Turkey on the "Provide Comfort" Kurdish relief mission, was in Saudi Arabia during the gulf war and was in Grenada during Britain's military invasion. "I was on leave when they called and asked me if I wanted to go," he said.
Maj. David Sullivan, the group's physician, said he expects he and his staff will be treating Cubans, Haitians and active U.S. military personnel during their temporary duty.
There is some irony in having an American naval base on an island where travel and trade with the United States have been embargoed for 25 years. Despite the political animosity, Sullivan said he doesn't see any unusual danger in the assignment. "These are not enemies right now, they are patients," he said.
For military personnel, temporary duty often causes the most conflicts at home. Capt. Scott Hail, a physician assistant, said he has missed four of his 19-year-old daughter's past five birthdays. "She asked where I was going to go this time and I told her I was sure something would come up." Then the call came while Hail was visiting family in Alaska that he would be leaving for Cuba the next week. His daughter will turn 20 while he is gone, he said.
Group members are on the staff at the base hospital at Hill. They met Friday to view an Air Force training video Friday that demonstrated landings and take-offs at the airstrips near the naval base. No one on the medical staff is a pilot, but the video gave an encouraging view of the beaches and scenery surrounding the base.