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Utah National Guard soldiers on humanitarian medical mission to Morocco

May 20, 2024, 5:05 PM | Updated: 6:34 pm

SALT LAKE CITY A special humanitarian medical mission is underway in the Kingdom of Morocco involving 82 soldiers from the Utah National Guard.

“You have ophthalmology, optometry, pulmonology, OB, women’s education,” said Col. Marcus Wisner. “Dental is huge, our dental teams will do amazing work out there, they’re actually transforming lives. It’s the full gamete of medical operations, all within a little tent compound.”

The Utah Medical Readiness Detachment, which is made of up soldiers who in their civilian lives come from a variety of medical backgrounds, left Utah on Saturday. The will spend approximately three weeks in Morocco as part of the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program African Lion. It’s a program that began more than 20 years ago.

“Morocco has been a partner with the United States for a very long time stretching back all the way to Jefferson’s presidency, and it’s a valued friendship,” Wisner said.

In 2023, dozens of medical providers serving with the Utah National Guard worked in the Moroccan town of Tiznit, treating more than 10,000 patients and performing more than 25,000 medical procedures. While the unit will serve in a new location this year, they expect to see similar numbers.

Staying busy

“We’re busy, we’re doing 12-hour days, I think the last time I was over there, I was averaging 17-20,000 steps a day,” said 1st Sgt. Robert Stephens.

Stephens is a firefighter and paramedic in his civilian life. He’s worked for the Logan City Fire Department for 25 years and is currently a captain at Station 120.

“I never say anybody is under me because I think we’re all equal, just because I have a title doesn’t make me above them,” Stephens said.

Serving the community has always been a part of Stephens’ DNA, a trait that appears to run in the family. His wife is a nurse, and now his daughter is a nurse at Logan Regional Hospital in Cache County.

“We go wheeling the patients in there and she’s always got some smart-aleck comment, ‘well did you bring the patient, or did they bring you in today,’” he said.

Stephens joined the guard in Idaho when he was 17. And this assignment in Morocco is his third medical detachment in recent years. He said it’s because of the support he gets at home that he’s able to continue serving.

Family cornerstone

“My wife is the cornerstone of our family, fills the gap and picks up the pieces when I’m gone,” Stephens said. “Without her support, and my kids’ support, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”

While Stephens is in Morocco, he’ll oversee the health and welfare of the unit, he’ll also advise the commander of any needs they may have. By doing his job efficiently, it will allow the other medically trained soldiers to focus on serving the Moroccan people.

“Moroccans will walk large, long distances, and spend the night in the desert waiting to come inside. You really have the opportunity to impact people’s lives,” Wisner said.

Additional reading:

Utah National Guard in Morocco for training exercise, ‘ready’ to assist Moroccan allies

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Utah National Guard soldiers on humanitarian medical mission to Morocco