Dr. Diep Le is fixing teeth in Quang Tri province.

Ho hum, another do gooder article, let’s all look away to the good stuff: blood and guts and political mudslinging.

But hold it a second. There is a lot more to the story.

Not only is Major Le an American born in Viet Nam, but she is working in an area that many  US Viet Nam veterans would rather forget about, the border area between the old south and north VietNam.

photo:Doctor Le (on the left) is a dentist and Air Force reservist from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Kerry Jackson)

more photos HERE

Dr. Le is part of a team of Air Force medical professionals and civil engineers in Vietnam Sept. 15 to 24 to provide humanitarian assistance in cooperation with local authorities to Quang Tri Province residents during Operation Pacific Angel 2009….

Here in the Philippines, every once in awhile we read in the papers that one of these joint exercize groups is coming or going. For example, a couple weeks ago, when that superferry sank, it was mentioned that the US Navy supplied some smaller boats and a helicopter to work with the Philippine Armed Forces in the rescue. They have helped with supplies and extra hands during landslides, floods, and other humanitarian disasters here, usually in a supporting role, with little publicity.

But Viet Nam?

Last time I looked, there were no Al queda trained groups in that area, and the communists run the place, they don’t kidnap businessmen for fun and profit like the NPA does here.

But a closer look shows that Operation Pacific Angel has done similar joint outreach programs in other Asia/Pacific areas the latest in July — one to Indonesia and another to Timor Leste.

So what is the US military doing there?

Winning hearts and minds? Well, yes.

But the dirty little secret is that if you have a disaster, “Who do you want to call? 0-0-1“.

What do the USAF and Navy have to do with disasters?

Quite a bit. They were one of the first ones there after the Boxer day Tsunami, and if the Burma cyclone disaster is ever written up, someone will notice that a lot of the deaths were because the dictators refused to allow Americans who were off the coast to bring in aid, or even to allow Americans to transport aid from civilian NGO’s to the neediest areas.

Some people think that making the military a peacenik mission is the answer, because it is the military who often can quickly get helicopters to deliver aid to the most isolated villages. American ships are well supplied with food, water, medicine, and other emergency supplies which are often needed. So if you hear about a disaster, often in the footnotes, you read that the US is there: not only in Indonesia after the Tsunami but to Bangladesh, Chad and other countries.

Here in the Asia Pacific region, that aid often comes from aircraft carriers or supply ships, such as the modern catamarans which carry such supplies and are able to travel in shallow water to speed supplies to disaster areas. But the logistics of working with a host country can get complicated. That is why there is a good argument for practice sessions, where there is US military coordination with local military organizations and NGO’s, so that when disaster strikes, the relief is coordinated.

The USAID already works with VietNam on HIV and bird influenza issues, and has sent help in the 2008 floods.

This is where the Pacific Angels story becomes interesting.

Because the NGO who is working with them also has an interesting background.

East Meets West Foundation was founded by Le Ly Hayslip, who was inspired by her Buddhist faith to use the money she earned as a businesswoman to promote healing and reconciliation between ex enemies. Her excellent memoirs were made into a somewhat disjointed movie by Oliver Stone.

Finally, along with Dental clinics, the Pacific Angels group is running medical clinics, fixing the plumbing and electrical work at the local hospital, and helping the East Meets West Foundation supply clean water to villages.

“It’s very important to Vietnamese people to know that the American people and the U.S. government came here to help improve the living conditions of Vietnamese people,” said Tran Thi Minh Huong, national coordinator of the East Meets West Foundation. “It’s very appreciated.”

Yes. Promoting peace, one smile at a time.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She was a member of the USANG in the past.

She blogs at MakaipaBlog.

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