Cadet Matthew Lisle scanned the contents of his duffel bag one last time. His uniform, helmet, canteen, protective gear and other necessities all sat inside. He had everything he needed for his pre-deployment training in Fort Knox, Ky.
But Lisle wasn’t headed off to war. Fort Knox was his first stop on a humanitarian trip where he and six other BYU Army ROTC cadets would join cadets from other battalions to translate for Army dentists offering free clinics to civilians in Latin America.
Each summer, BYU sends a group of Army ROTC cadets abroad as part of the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency program in Beyond the Horizon, an annual humanitarian and civic assistance exercise. This May, some cadets traveled to El Salvador and others to Panama, where they used their Spanish language skills to interpret for U.S. Army medical specialists.
After spending a week at the ROTC headquarters in Fort Knox where cadets received medical checkups and training for pre-deployment, anti-terrorism and first aid, the cadets set off on their respective trips.
Then they got right to work.
“I helped birth a child my very first day, so that was exciting. It was quite the experience,” said Cadet Jon Selee, a junior political science major, who facilitated conversation between civilians and Army doctors in Panama.
For a month, the Army specialists in Panama set up a full clinic, including family medicine, optometry, OB/GYN and pharmaceutical services. Selee and two other BYU cadets worked with all doctors to help them communicate with their patients.
“Optometry was really cool because there were a lot of people who would come in and could barely see … and they were just super grateful to be able to see once we could get them some glasses,” Selee said.
Meanwhile, another group of cadets spent the month in El Salvador translating for Army dentists and teaching civilians about preventive dental care while they waited for checkups. They even got some hands-on experience.
“They let us pull teeth. … If I had one highlight moment, it was yanking the first tooth out. … It was awesome,” said Cadet Trevor Findlay, a finance major from Seattle.
Even more valuable to the cadets than practicing their dental skills was a glimpse into their future careers.
“It was a humanitarian project but it was also a military thing at the same time, so I really liked being able to understand pre-deployment training,” Findlay said. “I found out what it’s going to be like when I do graduate and become an officer and that was … my biggest takeaway, what I can expect from a life in the Army.”
According to Lt. Col. Marc Boberg, professor of military science, understanding military procedure was one of the many objectives of the trips, which also included leadership practice, understanding foreign cultures, improving foreign language capability and learning to live the Army values. In doing so, Boberg hopes the Cadets can set a good example for those around them.
“Every interaction they have with (us), they walk away with an impression of the U.S. Army, of Americans, of BYU students, of members of the (LDS) Church,” Boberg said. “You’re representing much more than yourself, especially when you’re wearing that American flag on your shoulder.”