“We weren’t looking to build dependency,” Armstrong said. “We were trying to build capacity” in
those host nations.
Simply setting up shop was a logistical challenge.
The team had to adhere to local rules and clear customs in each of the three countries, he said.
“We had to have our paperwork in order. An agent
broker would help make the process go smoother, and
the [U.S.] Embassy helped with letters. But, as you’d
figure, delays in customs would mean delays in getting
stuff set up,” Armstrong said. “It hasn’t impacted the
start of our mission, but in some cases it makes for
some late hours.”
Teams also ventured into the countryside, providing
treatment and services to orphanages and homes for
“We had to bring everything — gauze, tape, med-
icine, X-ray, ultrasounds, dental chairs — with us,”
said Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Robert Lennon, the medical officer
in charge of Continuing Promise ’ 17. “It was very much
a group effort in getting equipment downrange.”
The prospective patients would begin lining up
as early as 2 a.m., before the gates would open.
Once inside, the Navy teams would provide a full
array of medical services as needed. There were
tooth extractions, lessons to kids on how to brush
their teeth, nutrition guidance, ways to build better
mosquito netting to prevent the spread of malaria
and the Zika virus, eye examinations and women’s
The Navy teams also provided training to doctors,
medical students and nurses from the host countries,
and learned from them as well, Lennon said.
When someone comes into Naval Hospital Jacksonville with abdominal pain, where he works as
a teaching resident, the patient can be given a CT
scan. In Guatemala, however, “There’s no [CT scan
machine] within 300 miles. We have to practice without it,” he said.
“From a purely selfish perspective, what does
the Navy get out of this? Doctors and nurses you can
drop anywhere in the world with nothing more than
a handbag and a stethoscope, and they can treat the
injured,” Lennon said.
Furthermore, the Navy teams are learning from the
local medical professionals who treat their countrymen and women every day. He cited tooth extractions
as an example. The Navy dentists and technicians
do fewer of them in stateside and base hospitals
because preventive dental care is considerably better
in the United States. The Guatemalan, Honduran and
Colombian dentists perform extractions as a matter
of routine, and are better at it than their American
counterparts, he said.
Lt. Lesley Hawley, a dermatologist assigned to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., removes a growth from the nose of a host nation patient at
the Continuing Promise 2017 medical site in Trujillo, Honduras, Feb. 25.