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Local pharmacists participate in 120-day humanitarian deployment

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, FLA -- -- Local pharmacists participate in 120-day humanitarian deployment

By Chris Calkins
45th Space Wing Public Affairs

Maj. Efrain Delvalle-Ortiz and Staff Sgt. Uriel H. Negron now have their sea legs.

That's what happens to 45th Medical Group Pharmacy Airmen who spend 120 days on USNS Comfort, where they joined forces with 650 other joint-service members who took part in Operation Continuing Promise, which recently brought medical, dental and civic action programs to seven Caribbean, Central and South American nations.

In all, 53 Airmen took part in the four-month long exercise.

Maj. Delvalle-Ortiz, and Sgt. Negron were the only two from the 45th Space Wing to participate. 

For Sgt. Negron, the most rewarding aspect of the deployment traces back to his heritage.

"The most rewarding? For me it was just helping people that were in need. If felt good to be able to help all those people out. Being from a Latin country  -- Puerto Rico -- and being able to help other Latin countries was a big thing for me. Made me feel good," he said.

Another rewarding aspect, he said, was the real world training and lessons learned he received in a joint environment.

"It seems we are getting more and more joint-service focused, and I¹m happy I got to interact with other services, see how they do things and learn to work with them and accomplish the mission. And after 120 days on that ship, I¹m really happy I am in the Air Force," he said with a smile.

In all, Operation Continuing Promise treated more than 120,000 patients, performed more than 1,600 surgeries, dispensed almost 200,000 prescriptions, had 15,000 visit the dentist and even saw more than 13,000 animals.

The ship visited (in order) Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Antigua, Colombia, Panama, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Maj Delvalle-Ortiz said The USNS Comfort itself is a floating hospital that
has all the needed facilities of a full service hospital here in the
states.

"We had an emergency room, 12 operating rooms and three ICU's", he said.

"We also had a bed capacity of over 1,000 patients and 12 wards. Sgt Negron was in charge of all the issuing of all meds to these 12 wards. I was the inpatient pharmacist in charge of reviewing all IV¹S, dosing and mixtures," he said.

For the major, the toughest part of the deployment wasn¹t the long hours (the pharmacy was open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for the first three months), the tough duty or the stress of the job.
His cut a little closer to home.

"For me, the toughest part by far was leaving the family behind, although my wife took great care of the house and kids while I was gone," he said.

"That¹s what Air Force spouses do, and we'd be lost without them," he said.

Their commander said their deployment ¬ and their performance during it ¬ were outstanding.

"The entire Medical Group is extremely proud of the contributions of Major Delvalle-Ortiz and Staff Sergeant Negron during their recent deployment onboard the USNS COMFORT in support of Operation Continuing Promise. It is exciting to have Air Force medics be part of such a successful joint medical operation," said Lt. Col. Craig Lambert, commander, 45th Medical Support Squadron.

For both Airmen, the biggest learning experience was the same. "Don't take things for granted and appreciate a little more just how much you have," they said in unison. "Stop fighting and arguing over the little things in life, because so many people out there have it so much worse than we do.

"It was good to be part of something good," they said.

And that¹s a great thing.