ROTC students support Operation Continuing Promise in South America


As hard as it is to understand a doctor’s diagnostic or medical jargon in English, doing it in another language thousands of miles away from the U.S. compounds the difficulty.

This was the mission ROTC cadets from BYU undertook.  Along with other officers from institutions of higher learning, these cadets took their linguistic talents to Ecuador.

[media-credit name=”Photo courtesy Lieutenant Colonel Marc Boberg” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]
Cadet Travis Cook translates in Spanish for a Navy medical officer in Ecuador.
The USNS Comfort, a U.S. hospital ship which once was an oil tanker, was called to serve on this mission with the cadets. Titled Operation Continuing Promise, the mission is one of hope and of keeping a promise. The U.S. Comfort transported the cadets along with supplies, doctors, dentists, optometrists and numerous crew members to Ecuador to provide humanitarian assistance.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Marc Boberg, battalion commander, professor and chair of the Department of Military Science at BYU, said he takes Operation Continuing Promise as a duty and opportunity to grow.

“Our primary mission was to provide quality Spanish translation to those in need in Ecuador,” Boberg said. “But it was more than that. Our cadets were given an opportunity to understand a new culture and become leaders.”

Although the cadets were proficient in the language, Boberg explained it was not enough to communicate, but that cultural understanding was essential.

“It didn’t matter that they served a Spanish-speaking mission,” Boberg said. “We were looking to take them out of their comfort zones and give them the opportunities to understand culture by immersion. Many times that is the only way.”

The U.S. Comfort is serving a five-month long humanitarian effort in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The cadets served as translators for about two weeks, but translating was only the name of the job. They had to learn local lingo and medical terminology to provide adequate evaluations, prescription explanation and instruction from surgeons and dentists.

“We are working together [with the people from Ecuador] to help them,” Boberg said. “We are not just transporting supplies. We work together and are open to learn and share techniques with the doctors.”

The ship served as the primary site where operations and the more complicated medical procedures would take place. Because of this it was normal for the officers to use local sites such as schools to set up medical centers to provide extra services.

“While the ship was being used for surgeries and treatments that required more advance equipment, we would set up schools and see about 700 patients a day — in total we saw over 9,000 patients,” Boberg said.

The mission and prescreening efforts were coordinated with the local governments and armed forces. Boberg said although their mission brought them there, it did not mean they could just enter wherever they wanted just because they were to provide aid.

“We definitely coordinated with the local armed forces and ministry of health,” Boberg said. “They had decided which cases needed additional assistance and what we were there to do.”

The officers and volunteers worked roughly 12-hour days. They spent most days interacting with local authorities, patients and other members of the U.S. armed forces.

Although serving as Spanish translators for military medical personnel gave the cadets involved an insight into humanitarian missions, it was the real-life application of their skills which greatly served their development.

“I’ve worked on some humanitarian missions in Mexico and have had college-level Spanish, but talking to native speakers for 10 or more hours day in and day out, translating in a professional setting and learning medical terms on the fly really pushed my speaking abilities,” said cadet Benjamin Dagg, a sophomore majoring in Spanish and political science, from Wheaton College in Storrs, Conn.

Meeting people from different backgrounds, cultures, religions and lifestyles were important to cadet Logan Cicotte, BYU senior from Harrisburg, Pa., majoring in linguistics.

“You can study a country and its language in a college course,” Cicotte said. “But you can’t truly understand people until you get to know them, learn what they believe about their own culture and history and what they believe about the United States.”

Cadets and volunteers built relationships with the people they served.  They represented the U.S. Army in a professional capacity. Cicotte said it was an opportunity to understand other people and culture while maybe helping them to understand U.S. culture as well.

Boberg said his cadets’ sense of duty translated beyond their language efforts.

“We have a great opportunity to help those in need, regardless of political climates,” he said. “What we did was helping our brothers — no matter in what language.”

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