News: Army medic tests Spanish-speaking skills, learns civil affairs in Belize
Story by Tech. Sgt. Kali Gradishar
CHUNOX, Belize - A U.S. Army medic in Belize is taking the opportunity operating under New Horizons Belize 2014 to acquire and apply useful knowledge to better herself and her career.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Summer Ramjak, a native of San Bernardino, Calif., deployed from the 349th Combat Support Hospital in Los Angeles, is primarily acting as the first stop for Belizean patients in the Corozal, Belize, area and is also tasked with the additional duty of assisting civil affairs.
New Horizons is a multi-faceted, international exercise geared toward providing mutual training opportunities between host nation and U.S. service members while assisting the host nation population in various capacities. Specifically, New Horizons encompasses Belizean, Canadian and U.S. medical professionals operating in numerous medical readiness training exercises throughout the country. The exercise also involves Belize Defence Force and U.S. military civil engineers constructing five school facilities and one medical care facility.
"My primary role as a medic is doing patient triage. When the patients come through, we get their basic vital signs and see what is their primary complaint," said Ramjak, a Soldier with 10 years of service. "From there, we take them to either optometry, dental or one of general medical doctors for follow-on treatment."
Interactions with the patients have varied as some people in the region are more comfortable speaking English and others more comfortable with Spanish. However, Ramjak is adjusting as needed to each person's preferences.
"My Spanish consists of primarily conversational Spanish, but it is definitely enough to get by," she explained. "When the patients sit down, I don't want to assume they speak English or Spanish, so I just judge based on their body gestures and how they're interacting with me whether or not they're a primary English or Spanish speaker.
"Those are the types of things I think people respect, so my interactions with the patients have been really positive," Ramjak added. "There's definitely a bridge to be gapped there, but I think we're doing pretty well.
One challenge, according to Ramjak, is adjusting from conversational Spanish to medical-based conversations, something the local Belizeans have been happy to help her with.
"They see that I'm trying with my Spanish because there are some things that I don't know. ... They tell me [their medical needs] in Spanish, and I will reiterate that back to them in Spanish to make sure my understanding of their needs is correct. I don't want to triage anyone incorrectly," Ramjak noted. "I'll sometimes ask, 'How do you say this? Como se dice esta palabra?'"
Just as she's building her Spanish vocabulary, she is also gaining knowledge outside her primary role as a medic -- something she hopes to put to use with a potential career change to civil affairs, she said.
"One of my additional duties is civil affairs. I'm trying to work with the [New Horizons Civil Affairs Detachment managed by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps] to learn about what they need us to do to help," Ramjak said. " I don't know much about it, so I'm trying to learn about it and get involved.
"When we do missions like this, we're looking at the medical aspect," Ramjak explained. "I feel like civil affairs, they zoom out and look at everything. They look at the local economy. They look at the political system. ... They look at everything from a broader spectrum to see what we can do here that would make this better here."
While Ramjak has learned different facets about her job and the Army while in Belize, this is not her first experience with humanitarian missions south of the U.S.
"Joining the Army, my first overseas experience was in Panama for the humanitarian effort in 2005. That set the tone for me for what I really wanted to do," she recalled. "I find these missions particularly rewarding because of such up close interactions with the people.
"Being able to talk to people and see what their input is, it helps all the way around," Ramjak added.