PARAMARIBO, Suriname – Approximately thirty troops from the South Dakota National Guard (SDNG) traveled to Suriname, South America to help with school renovations and provide medical and dental services in rural Suriname communities, April 18-May 3.
The mission was part of the Suriname and South Dakota State Partnership Program providing valuable training for both National Guard and Suriname Defense Force (SDF) personnel and assisting with meaningful community necessities for area residents. The partnership began in 2006, as a security cooperation relationship. In the last 16 years, the SDNG has worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the SDF in a variety of humanitarian projects and military training. Nearly a dozen exchanges take place each year.
“The partnership between Suriname Defense Force and the SDNG continues to grow strong and is seen in the collaboration for this event,” said Maj. Melody Howell, bilateral affairs officer – Security Cooperation Office in Suriname. “Continued support from NGB, SOUTHCOM, and the U.S. Embassy helps make events like this possible.”
A dozen SDNG soldiers from the 842nd Engineer Company worked alongside approximately a dozen SDF engineers to renovate the Magenta Polder Elementary School near the capital of Paramribo, including rebuilding bathrooms and wall sections, repairing doors, locks, screens, and ceiling tiles, and replacing all of the light fixtures with LED fixtures. SDNG engineers learned about different building challenges that we don’t face here in South Dakota, such as building in the Amazon jungle, termites and water damage.
Funding for the school repairs in the amount of $15,000 was from the National Guard Bureau. An additional $30,000 in humanitarian aid material donations for ongoing renovations was supplied by the Suriname Ministry of Education. All of the materials were purchased in Suriname through the U.S. Southern Command’s Humanitarian Civil Assistance program.
In addition, 18 soldiers from the SDNG 730th Area Support Medical Company, Medical Command and the 114th Medical Group worked with ten SDF medics to provide dental and medical services to 2,011 residents of the jungle communities of Atjoni, Brownsweg and Brokopondo. Dentists pulled a total of 1,207 teeth. Funding for the materials and medicine totaled $45,000 by the National Guard Bureau.
“The greatest need was for the medical and dental care,” said Lt. Col. Stephen E. Sewell III, State Partnership Program coordinator and project officer. “The engineering mission was outstanding but for the medical and dental we had people traveling up a river for three hours in a boat to come see us and we were seeing people who had never seen a dentist or a doctor before in their lives. It was absolutely incredible.”
Dental issues were the biggest medical concerns, as well as, infections and cyst removals. Working alongside Suriname’s doctors and dentists SDNG troops learned just as much, if not more from them as they learned from us, said Lt. Col. Sewell III.
“We were very excited to see this project get funded and approved,” said Lt. Col. Sewell III. “The SDNG has proven once again that, if given resources, we will produce outstanding results. They are amazing people, they are very friendly, the kids were a lot of fun and very well behaved. They are just very good people. We really had a lot of fun working with them.”
“The greatest thing I brought back from my experience there was just the appreciation for what we have here at home, our access to good dental and medical care that you don’t see around the world,” said Lt. Col. Sewell III.