Woman helping child wash hands (U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)
A member of the U.S. Air Force helps a Sri Lankan girl wash her hands during the 2016 Pacific Angel operation. (U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)

U.S. and Sri Lankan military forces teamed up in August for a special mission: providing health care and building schools in rural Sri Lanka.

Pacific Angel is a recurring joint humanitarian operation designed to improve lives and deepen ties in the Pacific region.

Man working in classroom (U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Heather Redman/Alamy)
A member of the U.S. Navy puts finishing touches on a health clinic in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, as part of Pacific Angel in August 2018. (U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Heather Redman/Alamy)

“With each opportunity to collaborate, the partnership between our militaries grows and local communities benefit,” said Robert Hilton, chargé d’ affaires, U.S. Embassy Colombo in Sri Lanka. “[Pacific Angel] represents how our expanding security partnership makes a difference in the lives of ordinary Sri Lankans.”

People carrying boxes (U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Heather Redman)
A U.S. Air Force member carries boxes of medications for the 2018 Pacific Angel operation in Vavuniya. (U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Heather Redman)

Whether that meant building a new school roof, upgrading water treatment or setting up free health care clinics in the town of Vavuniya,  U.S. and Sri Lankan partners pitched in together, assisted by Red Cross volunteers and Sri Lankan nursing students. Pacific Angel medical staff saw more than 1,000 patients per day — providing eyeglasses, dental work, physical therapy and prescription medications.

A new perspective

U.S. medics and Sri Lankan health officials also held a series of training sessions on mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue virus. This infectious disease affects up to 400 million people every year.

Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Christiano of the U.S. Air Force, who led the medical team, said she learned new perspectives from her Sri Lankan counterparts. “It’s this type of hands-on training and interaction that will ultimately help us work together if we are ever called to operate in an emergency capacity,” she said.

Woman looking through white-framed lenses being held up to her eyes (U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)
A Sri Lankan woman receives an eye exam during Pacific Angel 2016 in the city of Jaffna. (U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brittany A. Chase)

The 11th annual Pacific Angel operation started its humanitarian mission in Timor-Leste and Vanuatu. After departing Sri Lanka, the U.S. contingent will continue its work in the Indo-Pacific region, with a stop in Vietnam.