Counter Insurgency (COIN) operations are all about winning the hearts and minds of the local population. This can be difficult when we are perceived as the foreigners imposing legislation on a population that wants political autonomy and where the insurgents are often family members who claim to be fighting for autonomy. Our best efforts are focused on helping the locals achieve peace and prosperity while the insurgents are busy with their death and extortion. One of our tools is the MedCap.
We were up before the sun to finish loading supplies and gear into our vehicles and convoyed over muddy and often deeply rutted roads to a remote village where the people lived in huts little different from Gilligan’s Island. We stopped in a small clearing with the two best structures in the town used as the village school. They had cinderblock walls, wooden slats instead of glass for windows so the air could blow through freely and tin roofs. The wood in the building showed that termites were the primary residents.
We quickly set up a temporary clinic and began assessing patients. We saw quite a wide variety of medical issues. One complained that his stomach hurt when he ate too much; I wanted to tell him, “so does mine.” A mother complained that her 8-year-old boy had a loss of appetite; I wanted to tell here, “We call that being a fussy eater.” Others came to have cists removed or teeth pulled and a few boys and young men came for circumcisions. We provided some form of medical care for more than 100 patients that day but the day was not over.
We brought a projector and screen with us and by the time the sun went down, we had a field expedient movie theater set up. I can say from experience that laughter is a universal language that can tear down some thick cultural barriers. Even when the locals do not understand the English spoken in the movie, they always laugh up a storm during Ice Age.
After spending a night under the stars, with the dew so thick that it appeared to have rained, we again awoke before the sun, packed our wet sleeping bags, cots and hammocks and convoyed back to camp leaving behind another village who now know who the good guys are.