U.S. Military Medical Teams Help Heal Relations

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DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia -- CBN News recently traveled to Ethiopia, where the U.S.military is working against terrorism with a U.S. military medical team.

This is the part of the world that has received so much attention because of pirates attacking cargo ships and taking hostages. 

But piracy isn't the whole story, it's just the tip of the iceberg.  Radical extremism is as much a problem in Africa as it is in Afghanistan. 

The U.S. strategy here is to get the military involved earlier, deny the terrorists a safe haven and strengthen relations with local governments.

"We are building their stability, helping them build a better lifestyle, and in the end that does promote a more stable region and that does help keep extremism at bay," Capt. Corinna Jones said.
 
In the past, terror organizations found willing recruits by offering hope in this area crushed by poverty and disease.  Now, military doctors simply treating for intestinal parasites -- from which nearly everyone here suffers -- can help fight extremism.  Some of the physicians have even named it their "global war on worms."

Hundreds of people have been showing up to wait in this field over the last 24 hours, wanting to be seen by the military physicians who are here for this medical clinic being put on today.  For many of these people it might have been five years or more since the last time they saw a doctor, and it could be another five years before they have this chance again.

"You can catch more flies with sugar than you can with vinegar," said Major Michael Wheeler, Ethiopia Mission Commander.

Wheeler heads up the mission.  His team includes 30 highly skilled personnel from all services, including doctors, dentists, pharmacists and even a veterinarian.  But despite all they have to offer, they don't want the credit.

"Really what we want to do is to boost the image of the local government, the local health ministry and even the local police," Wheeler said. "It gives them a chance to see their government in action and know that their government does care about them and they are working for them."
 
A stronger local government leads to a more stable society, which will hopefully make us all a bit safer in the long run.  Scott Regiec left the elite special forces for civil affairs because he saw the effectiveness of this unique kind of mission.

"I think these people realize that we Americans are a compassionate people," Regiec said. "After a mission like this, they don't wish us any ill.

"As the father of two kids, which I do miss, a lot!  To see these kids, to put a smile on their face, to know that we're doing good for them, it fills my heart with a lot of joy," Regiec added.
 
Another benefit to this strategy is the cost.  Humanitarian aid is one of the cheapest military missions there is.  For example, this entire two-week deployment cost about as much as a single tank of fuel for a large military cargo transport.  Not only that, but this kind of "preemptive strike" -- stopping terrorism before it takes root -- is cheaper where it really counts: in human lives. 

During their 12-month deployment, this unit didn't lose a single member to enemy fire.

"As our command develops, we would like to extend this friendship to even more parts of Africa," Wheeler said.
 
"It's been a great experience to come out here and help these people, to work in conjunction with the Ethiopian government," Regiec said. "I'm having a great time, it's a positive experience for myself, my colleagues, as well as these people."

*Originally aired May 25, 2009
 

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Chuck Holton

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