By MC2 Brittney Cannady 

Expeditionary Combat Camera

The humanitarian mission Continuing Promise 2017 (CP-17) concluded March 31 after wrapping up its visit to Mayapo, Colombia.

During the 10-day stop to one of Colombia's more remote regions, the multi-service team of healthcare professionals completed 10,604 patient encounters, far exceeding their mission planning goal of 5,000. 

The visit also continued to build on U.S.-Colombian relations and capacities through 65 knowledge exchange and training events (KETs); 529 animal treatments; eight community relations projects and 15 band performances.

Additionally, Maypo presented the unique opportunity for the CP-17 team to interact and learn from the indigenous Wayuu people.

"The Wayuu are a fascinating culture-very different from ours. It is extremely valuable for Navy medical personnel to practice interacting with new and different cultures as we deploy all over the world," said Lt. Cmdr. Robert Lennon, CP-17's medical officer in charge.

"We have found that the Wayuu appear to have no arthritis before the age of 80, and have a very low prevalence of both hypertension and squamous cell carcinoma, a skin cancer commonly found in most other populations."

Lennon added the mission's findings could spur additional medical research.

"There is virtually no published health data on the Wayuu; we hope our observations can lead to further investigation," he said.

Mayapo marked the final stop for the mission's 169 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps service members. 

From Jan. 26 to March 31 they worked with local military, medical professionals and volunteers to provide medical, dental, optical and veterinary services in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, Trujillo, Honduras, and Mayapo, Colombia.

"The work done by everyone involved in this mission far exceeded the goals we set," said Mission Commander Capt. Errin Armstrong. "Our success was only possible through the tremendous support from our partner nations and the teamwork and interoperability we developed during each of our country visits." 

Through the mission's ongoing cooperation it accomplished 23,601 patient encounters; 200 KETs; more than 800 animal treatments; and 24 community relations projects. Additionally, members of the U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Band performed 51 concerts at local schools and public venues. 

Armstrong went on to say that the collaboration and partnering with local health care providers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), interpreters, volunteers, and embassy teams was essential to successfully providing quality care to host nation patients. 

"I'm positive our personnel have all gained a wealth of knowledge from their experiences with volunteer groups and NGOs," said Armstrong. "The feedback we've received from these interactions will help us to continue developing relationships with our friends and neighbors to the south."

In addition to military medical professionals, U.S. personnel worked alongside various NGOs, including Children's Vision International, Operation Blessing and Trujillo Pet Project, while also teaming with local universities and schools.

Musician 2nd Class Carl Schulte, a trumpet player assigned to the U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Band, said CP-17 was unlike anything he has participated in and something he will never forget.

 "As a musician you're lucky to be able to travel often, but seeing the faces of kids light up or watching people dance because they enjoy our music is awesome," said Schulte. "Even if we can't always speak the language, this experience has taught me that music is truly a universal language." 

The unique team of military and civilian providers working together was also a new experience for Colombian optometrist Dr. Fabio Mora; one he said worked well.

"Everyone was open to learn and share their skills to help give the best care to patients. I'm very happy to have been a part of this mission," said Mora. 

For Hospital Corpsman Third Class O'Neal James, assigned to Naval Hospital Jacksonville, the mission has reinvigorated his passion for dentistry. 

"I'm grateful for the opportunity to be able to help so many people from country to country. Being able to give someone the confidence to smile again because they have healthy teeth was a great feeling," said James.

Construction Electrician Second Class Jan-Rainier San Juan, assigned to Construction Battalion Mobile Unit 202 expressed his excitement to reunite with family and friends when he returns to Jacksonville, Florida. 

"I'll be happy to be home and to see my wife and children. My family really supported me, and I'm looking forward to being able to see them soon," said San Juan.

CP-17 is a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command/U.S. 4th Fleet-conducted deployment to conduct civil-military operations including humanitarian assistance, training engagements, and medical, dental, and veterinary support in an effort to show U.S. support and commitment to Central and South America.