Editor’s note: The opening and closing paragraphs are paraphrased from an Air Force Print News article.
A team composed of American, Australian and Nepalese military and civilian members accomplished a plethora of tasks, which included treating more than 4,000 villagers, repairing and renovating three schools and sharing expertise with the locals Sept. 10 to 15 as part of Operation Pacific Angel 12-4 in Nepal.
Maj. Brian Blanchard, 56th Medical Group Optometry Flight commander, was part of the team. The trip lasted 18 days and involved a lot of travel.
“The trip was from Sept. 3 to 21,” he said. “However, we spent more than 100 hours during that time on an airplane or a bus. We traveled by commercial aircraft to Hawaii and then on a KC-135 to Kathmandu, Nepal. Then we took an eight to 10 hour bus ride through the Himalayas to the city of Poklara at the base of Annapurna mountain range, which has four of the top 10 highest peaks in the world.”
The flight presented unique challenges for the KC-135 pilots.
“The pilots of the KC-135 had to practice for more than a month to land in Nepal,” Blanchard said. “It’s a very steep descent over the Himalayas and the runway is inclined and short. It was one of the more exciting landings I’ve had in my life.”
Once in country, there was plenty to do, and the team hit the ground running.
“I was chief of the optometry team,” he said. “We had a team of active-duty optometrists, Project Hope optometrists, Himalayan eye hospital doctors and technicians, Nepal army technicians and Air Force active-duty technicians. There were also 12 medical students who served as translators. The team had 20 people.
“We were able to help close to 1,000 patients during our time there. Many people needed sight-saving surgery. The team was able to expedite care to the eye hospital and the surgeries were free of cost if we referred them. We also dispensed nearly 1,000 pairs of glasses and 1,400 pairs of sunglasses, and had a full formulary of medications and treated numerous acute ocular infections as well.”
This mission had a profound impact on him, Blanchard said.
“It was a humbling experience,” he said. “The Nepalese people are a simple and happy people. They were so thankful for our services. The children were our favorite patients. They are very polite and loved to laugh. I loved to ask the children what they liked to eat, and the most common answers were bananas, mangos, rice, milk and eggs. I didn’t see any obese people there. It was the end of the rainy season and rice was almost ready to harvest.”
Not only that, Blanchard remarked on some the aspects of Nepalese culture.
“Cows are sacred and roam the streets like dogs during the day and return to their homes in the evening,” he said. “They raise water buffalos for meat. The roads are crazy because there are no lights or signs, which makes for a fairly chaotic scene.”
Pacific Angel operations have been the cornerstone of the Pacific Air Force’s involvement efforts to partner with host nation military personnel throughout the Asia-Pacific region to improve the lives of tens of thousands of people and blend operations with like-minded military and civilian professionals.