BAU, Malaysia - Vans filled with medical personnel in more than 10 different uniforms, supply trucks as tall as the houses they parked next to and hundreds of smiling and wide-eyed locals gathered in the narrow streets of Kampung Suba Buan.
The heat and humidity rose from the ground as the 35 American, Japanese, Australian and Malaysian medical service members worked together to transform an empty pavilion into a makeshift clinic and presentation room in slightly more than an hour.
Crowds of patients began lining up at a registration table manned by two to three personnel, kicking off the first day of Pacific Partnership 2017 cooperative health engagements (CHE) in Malaysia April 19.
During the day, the combined medical team worked together to see a total of 396 patients in medical, dental, and optometry, as well as provide classes on nutrition and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
"The best part of the CHE is the interactions that let you see how everyone comes together to really make a difference," said Pacific Partnership 2017 Malaysia Medical Officer in Charge Cmdr. Evangeline Allen. "For example, there was a 75-year old woman waiting to be seen in optometry, and everyone on the medical side, as well as the other patients waiting, all helped to get her to the front of the line so she wouldn't miss her bus. When our optometrist put those glasses on her face, she just lit up. It's very rewarding seeing the good that comes out of all of us working together."
U.S. Army Sgt. Jorge Laguna, the mission's optometry technician, also had rewarding experiences working with such a diverse team.
"You get something from everybody you work with," said Laguna. "I got to eat lunch with the Malaysian guys and really get to know them and learn about their culture, and that was probably my favorite part of the day."
Laguna said that the best part of working with Pacific Partnership isn't what he does day to day, but what he knows he'll return with at the end of the mission.
"Things like this change you," he explained. "You go back home and you see things differently; for the better."
After an hour of setup and seven hours of seeing as many patients as possible in the steaming, 90-plus degree heat, the work and weather cooled off together in the last hour of the workday with cool, heavy, and much-appreciated rain.
Now in its 12th year, Pacific Partnership continues as the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific and aims to enhance regional coordination in areas such as medical readiness and preparedness for manmade and natural disasters.