May/June 2012

US Military Medical Support After the Earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Larrabee Center for Facial Plastic Surgery and Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, University of Washington, Seattle.

Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2012;14(3):218. doi:10.1001/archfacial.2012.400

On December 21, 1972, at 12:29 AM, Managua, Nicaragua, was devastated by a 6.2-magnitude earthquake. Eighty percent of the city was damaged, 5000 individuals died, and 20 000 more were injured. At that time, I was Director of Civic Action and Disaster Relief for the US Military Southern Command headquartered in the Panama Canal Zone. Later that morning our initial team arrived to survey the damage and initiate relief efforts. That Saturday still stands out in my mind because of the rapid and efficient response of the US military. Requests were communicated to the United States, and by the next morning transport planes were landing to bring operating rooms, medical equipment and supplies, drugs, and additional personnel. Hours after the planes landed, facilities were in place to begin treatment of the injured. Medical staff from the United States integrated easily with local medical physicians and military medical staff from the Southern Command, as well as international volunteers such as Peace Corps nurses.

The US military has unparalleled systems to deliver critical surgical services rapidly almost anywhere in the world. In addition, its personnel are superbly trained to provide acute medical and surgical care in difficult geographical areas. The military has proven in mission after mission that their medical staff are also dedicated humanitarians who work well with local health care providers and other civilian volunteers. Although much has changed in the last 40 years, the superb logistical ability of the US military and the skill and dedication of its medical staff remain.1,2

In this short Commentary, it is not possible to cover the spectrum of humanitarian missions performed by and in conjunction with the military; however, 2 representative individuals who have contributed significantly will provide different personal perspectives. Thomas G. Crabtree, MD,3 has organized and participated in many humanitarian missions. He helped create the Pacific World Care project, which provides treatment for children with craniofacial deformities from around the Pacific Rim. While deployed to Iraq, he worked to create rural outreach clinics for primary care and specialty referrals that continue today. His insights into the developing capabilities of the US military in humanitarian missions are of note. G. Richard Holt, MD,4 has likewise been involved in many organized missions. His experience validates the model of civilian-military cooperation.

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Article Information

Published Online: May 15, 2012. doi:10.1001/archfacial.2012.400.

Correspondence: Dr Larrabee, Larrabee Surgical Center for Facial Plastic Surgery, 600 Broadway, Ste 280, Seattle, WA 98125 (

Financial Disclosure: None reported.

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