FSSG rolls up sleeves for mercy mission[MIGRATE]

By Cpl. Jose A. Figueroa | October 05, 2000

Once again, Marines and sailors from 1st Force Service Support Group answered the call on a mission of mercy treating children with deformities in San Diego, Sept. 21-26.

Their outreach of primarily postoperative care came at the 14th annual Mercy Outreach Project, which provides corrective surgery to children from Central and South America.

More than 100 children were operated on during the mission. More than 3,000 children have been treated since the program began in 1986, officials said.

The project started when a band of medical professionals convened at Scripps Mercy Hospital. Most of the medical personnel were previously involved in similar projects with other organizations and decided to continue their work.

At about the same time, a Mexican national working in the United States was injured and won a settlement, then used it to help children.

The law firm representing him, chipped in $10,000 and began its own humanitarian mission.

Dallas Elliot, a retired Marine, now administrator at the law firm, joined the project in 1986. The project originally involved repairing orphanages in Mexico. In the beginning, several sailors and Marines volunteered their time.

The law firm and members of Mercy Outreach Surgical Team soon paired up through their affiliation with the San Diego Rotary Club.

The law firm was tasked with logistics. Through the firm's medical contacts in Mexico, children were screened to determine suitability for surgery. The firm also helped with the immigration process.

A Veterans of Foreign Wars lodge in San Marcos originally was used as a surgical center. St. John's Parish Hall in San Diego later became the new venue.

Faced with a pressing need for trained medical personnel, Elliot looked to the military for assistance.

Elliot looked up contacts from his days as commanding officer of 1st Maintenance Battalion, 1st FSSG. He requested the help of 1st Medical Battalion, 1st FSSG.
"They (1st Med. Bn.) were more than happy to help," Elliot said.

Sailors from 1st Med. Bn. and Marines from 1st Maintenance Bn. joined the project nine years ago and have been providing postoperative care, security, transportation and interpreters for the young patients.

"Originally, they came in, and as time went by, they created a standard operating procedure," Elliot said.

Many sailors and Marines described the project as an eye-opening growth experience, as well as an opportunity to help others who are less fortunate.

Lieutenant j.g. Nilo Llagas, detachment commander, Med. Bn., said: "Every year we surprise ourselves, because we get better at doing this. We always get suggestions for the next year, and we try to implement them. This is truly an experience for myself, the sailors and the Marines involved."

"If the Navy and Marines weren't here one day, I don't know what we would do," Elliot said. "Their assistance is invaluable to us."

Patricia Robinson, president, Mercy Outreach Surgical Team, said the project gained steam when military personnel from Camp Pendleton came on board.

"Having the military help has been great," Robinson said. "The amount of assistance the military has provided in postoperative care has been immeasurable."