BRAVA team brings treats, treatments to Cambodians
Stars and Stripes May 31, 2004
Many of the servicemembers participating in a medical humanitarian mission to Cambodia this month are finding the experience personally satisfying.
Besides providing much-needed health services to a poor, war-ravaged part of the country, they are spending a lot of their time interacting personally with the Cambodians flocking to receive medical and dental care provided by the Blast Resuscitation and Victim Assistance mission.
Servicemembers like Air Force Master Sgt. Rita Greiner, a noncommissioned officer in charge of orthopedics at the 99th Medical Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. As a member of the BRAVA 2004 team, she has become a surrogate mom for 200 children.
It didn’t take the children of Kep long to figure out that a stop by the local hospital in the afternoon will be rewarded with something from her bag of treats.
“I brought one entire suitcase filled with items just for the kids,” Grenier said, according to a mission news release.
Her bag is not the only source of nonmedical gifts being handed out by the BRAVA team. The Thrift Store at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii donated about 1,500 toys and the spouse of a commander in Hawaii collected six bags of children’s clothes and two bags of shoes for distribution.
Doctors on the BRAVA team brought along medical reference books and veterinarian books.
“It’s a very simple and easy thing to do,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Diep Duopng, the team leader. “This means so much for the people who receive on this end.”
Other team members get satisfaction just from knowing what they are providing during the mission. Like the 400 or so dental patients Dr. Charles “Fritz” Craft will see by the time the mission is over. Craft, a dental officer with the U.S. Public Health Service Ready Reserve Corps, is getting a kick out of telling his patients to “Just say Ha.” “Ha” is the Khmer word for “open wide.”
“We’re mostly doing emergency dental care, which is treating what we call acute or chronic infections,” he said.
Dental care is so rare that one of the things Craft and his small team had to do first was dispel the notion it was something to fear. “People here have deep-seated fears about seeing a dentist,” he said. “They believe they can go blind or can die because of local myths about dentists.”
Kraft and his team have helped them learn they don’t have to be afraid of modern dentistry, he said. It also helps that all his work is in the open. As he works on one patient, those waiting for their turn crowd to peer through a window.
“Most of the people that are standing outside can see what’s going on inside and so it relieves their fears a little bit,” said Army Staff Sgt. Nicole D. Marchan, a dental hygienist assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh.
By the end of the mission, Craft said, his team will have provided some $100,000 in free dental services. “I think that dental care is one of the best value services this type of mission can give,” he said.