ABOARD USS KEARSARGE --
Tropical Cyclone Sidr battered the Bangladesh coastline leaving over 3,000 dead Nov. 15 – the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Fleet Surgical Team 4 medical teams followed. The two teams, of seven to nine Sailors each, visited four villages and treated 1,640 patients in four days.
“It’s very rewarding to go out and treat people who don’t have any medical care, and the ones who we treat show a look of relief on their faces that is rewarding enough in itself,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Sharon Calmese, leading petty officer of the 22nd MEU (SOC) medical platoon.
The 22nd MEU (SOC) provided the rotary-wing assets to accomplish the mission, assets which allowed the teams to provide help to the country’s hardest-hit and geographically isolated regions.
“Most of the areas were still flooded. We actually had to find different landing zones,” said Calmese, an Ontonagon, Mich., native. “You could see the roofs were blown off the houses, and the trees were down. Boats were up on dry land. It was ransacked.”
The teams visited the villages of Bamna, Rangabali, South Khali, and Dubla Char, to provide services ranging from preventative medicine and pediatrics to treatment of blunt trauma injuries and severe dehydration, said Cmdr. Trey Hollis, the MEU mission’s commander.
“The biggest problem after Sidr, as in any tropical cyclone, is having enough clean potable water,” said Hollis. “In the absence of water, not only does dehydration set in, but inhabitants are forced to seek out and use contaminated ground water, which leads to other problems.
During the long days on the ground, the teams treated a large number of displaced and homeless Bangladeshis who were suffering the effects of the environment, said Hollis.
“There was a lot of insomnia and difficulty sleeping, either from being homeless or the loss of loved ones,” said Hollis, “and, in a country that is endemic of Malaria and Dengue fever, being outside during the nighttime often exposed them to mosquito-borne diseases.”
Into the late hours of the night, the sailors prepared medications for the long days ahead, bags of antibiotics that would treat patients like the migrant fishermen in the fishing village Dubla Char.
“A couple of them had very bad infections,” said Cmdr. David Damstra, Fleet Surgical Team 4’s mission commander. “One had a relatively minor cut on his foot, but between the typhoon and the time we got there, it had become extremely infected. If he didn’t receive aggressive antibiotics, he could have easily lost his foot or his life.”
“I think that both sides, Americans and the Bangladeshis, will remember this well,” said Damstra. “Perhaps for different reasons, but we will always feel a certain closeness to the Bangladeshis, and I hope that we have planted good memories and that when they think of Americans, they think of the ones who came to help them out.”
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) provided disaster relief to the victims of Tropical Cyclone Sidr at the request of the Bangladesh Government Nov 23 to Dec. 3.
The 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 261; Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment; Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; and its Command Element.
Kearsarge left its homeport of Norfolk, Va., July 31 and is currently on a scheduled deployment.
To learn more about these units visit the Web sites atwww.22meu.usmc.mil andwww.lhd3.navy.mil.