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NEWS | Aug. 21, 2008

Lackland sergeants participate in Continuing Promise

By Meredith Canales 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

When Tech. Sgts. Carlos Morales and Maria Torres joined up with U.S. Southern Command's Continuing Promise they did so to help people and to show appreciation to a country that they both say gives them a better way of life than those they experienced during the mission.

"My role was as a translator," said Sergeant Morales. "I'm from Humacal, Puerto Rico, so I speak Spanish fluently. They were going down to Central and South America, so they needed people who could translate for the medical teams helping the citizens."

Sergeant Torres, who also worked as a translator, said she joined up after receiving an e-mail about Continuing Promise and encouragement from her superiors.

"They always think I'm from Colombia, and the e-mail said they were going to Colombia for the mission," she said. "Well, I'm from Venezuela, but since I was asked to go I thought it would be a good opportunity. I kind of felt like I owed the U.S. something for letting me come in here and giving me a better life."

The sergeants, both from the 318th Training Squadron, said typical days in South America were hot but filled with good experiences.

"It was hot but awesome because even though you were just helping translate, they always greeted you with a hug or a kiss and said thank you even if you just gave them Tylenol," said Sergeant Torres. "They were so appreciative, it just made you realize your life was not bad compared to what they went through every day."

Sergeant Morales said his days began at 5 a.m.

"We had to be at the hangar on the aircraft carrier, where we stayed, by 7 a.m.," he said. "Then they flew us by helicopter to the different countries. By the time we got to the clinics, we could have as many as 1,500 people waiting for us. When they had to come back to the carrier for surgeries, they were usually scared to get on such a big helicopter, but they did it anyway because it was better than going without the surgery."

Nights spent on the carrier allowed for a kinship to be forged between the Navy and Air Force members.

"At the beginning it was kind of hard because they all looked at us like we were different or aliens, but then we started mingling and talking to them and hanging out with them. We created a nice group of people. We played a lot of dominoes," said Sergeant Morales.

Visiting impoverished countries allowed the Continuing Promise workers to gain insight into the lack of health education in South and Central America.

"I had one patient who was HIV positive. She had a child but her child wasn't sick when she was born," said Sergeant Torres. "Because of the lack of education, she breast fed him, not knowing she could pass the sickness onto her luckily healthy child. It struck me because the child's name was Marco, which is my son's name. Because no one told this lady not to breast feed, the child contracted HIV and was hospitalized. He was already toward the end of his life when I was there. He was 15 months old but looked about 6 months old."

Sergeant Morales said being able to help people such as these was the ultimate reward for his efforts.

"I met a lot of good people, people that needed help," he said. "I felt good every time I provided help, even though I wasn't a doctor, just facilitating as a translator. It just felt incredible to be able to help those people."