Army engineers build clinics, receive training in the Dominican Republic
For the past three months, the residents of the Valverde Province of the Dominican Republic awoke to the sounds of heavy construction equipment and the banging of hammers. Normally known for its quiet streets in the countryside, the area is now buzzing with activity and the residents would not have it any other way.
Since March 19, the Valverde Province has hosted more than 1,000 U.S. Soldiers who are in the Dominican Republic in support of Beyond the Horizon 2011 – Dominican Republic, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored, U.S. Army South-led, joint service, interagency combined field training exercise geared to provide humanitarian and civic assistance to partner nations. BTH 11 DOM’s primary mission, which concludes June 25, is to provide medical treatment and construct facilities.
The engineering Soldiers of the BTH 11 DOM mission constructed two medical clinics. From pouring the foundation, to installing the electrical wiring, to painting the interior and exterior, the engineers were responsible for building structures that will facilitate access to healthcare for the residents of the Valverde Province for the next 50 years.
“Our mission down here is great,” said Spc. David Carr, an engineer with the 624th Engineer Battalion in Price, Utah. “We may not be able to see our clinics being fully utilized while we’re here, but I know I can go home and take pride in the fact that the Dominican people will be able to use what I have built for many years to come.”
In addition to providing healthcare and constructing facilities for the Dominican people, the Soldiers also received valuable real-world training and conducted civil-military operations to show U.S. commitment to the region. The Soldiers who participate in the BTH 11 DOM exercise work closely with government and local leaders.
According to Lt. Col. Louis A. Feliciano, the commander for the Partnership of the Americas Collaboration and Coordination Element and commander of the 393rd Combat Services Support Battalion in Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, the Valverde Province was chosen by the Dominican government in coordination with ARSOUTH and was based on the severe need for healthcare infrastructure. Many of the residents of the towns of Cacheo and Boruco have limited means of transportation and money, and access to routine medical care.
“We’ve been able to gain the commitment of the local governor and local military commanders to ensure these facilities will be manned through the department of public health and that they will provide the actual resources to continue the service,” said Feliciano.
Feliciano and his Soldiers hope that the clinics left behind, which will now be staffed by Dominican doctors, will make a significant difference in the lives of the local people. The excitement and appreciation was evident throughout the construction process as local residents would often stop to interact with the Soldiers to show their appreciation.
“This program has had an immense impact on the people of this region,” said Staff Sgt. Luis E. Lopez, an engineer with the 448th Engineer Bn. in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “As far as the eye can see, people know about our presence and they have a clear understanding of what our mission is. They know we are here to build these clinics and that they will be an asset to the local communities.”
In addition to building the two clinics, BTH 11 DOM engineers renovated a medical clinic in the town of Amina and a schoolhouse in Boruco. The engineers replaced electrical and plumbing systems in the clinic and installed handicap access ramps at the Boruco school.
During the construction projects, engineers from the Dominican army worked with U.S. Soldiers to complete the projects. Lopez believes the two armies working side-by-side provided valuable lessons for both countries and helped the U.S. Soldiers gain valuable training experience.
“There are so many aspects here that are different to the way we are used to building,” said Lopez. “Some of the Dominican army’s more experienced engineers worked with us. The guidance they provided has helped us finish ahead of schedule.”
The construction projects in the Dominican Republic will go a long way in providing quality healthcare to an impoverished region. For many residents, the medical treatment they receive at the clinics will mark the first time they have seen a doctor in decades. For others, weeks of construction and noise was well worth the effort because if they need medical care they will be able to simply walk down the soon-to-be quiet street to the local clinic.
“This is such a great service that has been provided to us,” said Isidra Osoria Fernandez, a resident of Esperanza, Dominican Republic. “We are very grateful to the United States Soldiers for coming here and making it easy for us to see doctors. For many people in these towns, this can save their lives.”