NHANG optometrist participates in PACANGEL

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Mark Wyatt
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
A N.H. Air National Guard optometrist recently participated in Operation Pacific Angel-Nepal, a six-day joint exercise that is an annual humanitarian assistance mission. 

Maj. Robert D. Groves, assigned to the 157th Medical Group, provided direct assistance to Nepal citizens as part of the optometry team during the exercise sponsored by U.S. Pacific Command designed to bring civic assistance and civil-military operations to areas in need.

"We provided eyewear such as sunglasses, reading glasses, and bifocals, and dispensed a lot of artificial tears," Groves said. "The mission involved U.S. military personnel, as well as a large contingent from the Nepalese military."

Just completing its seventh year, this leg of Operation Pacific Angel took place in two separate communities in the Chitwan district of Nepal. Local residents were provided medical services, as well as assistance in renovation and repair of schools. In addition to vision, Nepalese citizens were also given the opportunity to see providers in primary care, dentistry, pediatrics, and physical therapy.

"The mission helps to cultivate common bonds and foster goodwill between the United States and regional nations in the Pacific by conducting multilateral humanitarian assistance and civil military operations," said Groves, an optometrist who spent four years on active duty before joining the NHANG in 2012. "My particular mission was to the country of Nepal."

Operation Pacific Angel is conducted to support the U.S. military charter of capacity building in partner nations. The operations contain elements of all four branches of the Department of Defense, including active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members.

In addition, the U.S. military participates in these operations to enhance relations with partner nations, build medical and civil assistance capacity in nations in need, and to prove a commitment to support the nation's efforts to assist their population in a time of need.

"We share a deep bond with our brothers and sisters here in Nepal," said Lt. Col. Marc Martinez, Operation Pacific Angel-Nepal mission commander, during an opening ceremony in September. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to be invited to work hand-in-hand with our Nepalese counterparts."

Health care personnel from the U.S. military, as well as other medical professionals from Australia, Mongolia, Bangladesh and England treated more than 5,400 patients in total.

The Chitwan district of Nepal is geographically located in the central-southern region of Nepal. It lies in a region of Nepal known as the terai. The terai is a rural area made up of grasslands and savannas with a distinctive marshy character. Its' inherent rural nature makes routine access to health care for the local population a barrier. In addition, many people lack the personal resources needed to obtain health care. For these individuals, missions like PACANGEL are the only opportunities that they may have to access services that they may not otherwise have been able to obtain.

"Essentially the local villagers come to take care of their medical needs in this one mission," Groves said. "That might be all they have because they have very limited means and resources."

This mission, unlike previous missions in the region, focused on capacity building in the host nation. The objective was to provide assistance to an area, and leave behind the capability for doctors to continue to provide the services moving forward.

The major was impressed to see how the team came together to set-up two clinics with limited resources and facilitate care in a span of two weeks.

"It was also very rewarding to be able to provide care to the people of Nepal," Groves said. "A lot of my patients were elderly and had never seen an eye doctor in their entire life."

Groves noted that it was a challenge to provide the same level of care he does at home.

"Being able to receive something simple as a pair of sunglasses or a pair of bifocals to help sharpen their vision made a lot of difference," he said. "So many of them simply do not have the means to obtain these services ... I felt a real sense of gratitude from many of the patients whom I saw. It really gave the work that we did a lot of meaning."

He added that the smiles on the children of Nepal alone made the trip worthwhile.

Over the past year members of the 157th Air Refueling Wing have deployed all over the globe supporting a multitude of deployments in support of the Air Force mission to fly, fight and win.

Groves encourages other Airmen to make it a priority to participate in similar humanitarian missions.

"I wouldn't trade my experience in Nepal for anything," said Groves. "Participating in missions like PACANGEL gives you the opportunity to improve the quality of life for many less fortunate. You may get to work alongside health care professionals from different countries." 

For those interested in learning more on future humanitarian missions, are encouraged to contact Maj. Groves at 603-430-2359 for further information.