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Mission of mercy gratifying for Marine

February 12, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN -- Cole Barnhart is back home, but he remains linked to those he came to know last summer while serving for three weeks as a U.S. Marine Corps Reservist in Peru.

"This was my first time doing a humanitarian mission like this," Barnhart said. "I enjoyed it thoroughly and hope to go again."

Task Force New Horizons - Peru 2008 was a three-month operation that completed the construction of two schools, three medical clinics and a water well for the Peruvian people of the Ayacucho region.

Doctors, nurses and medical specialists conducted nine medical missions, offering free medical care to the people there.

More than 950 active duty, reserve and guard service members from the Air Force, Marines, Navy and Army worked with Peruvian military and civilians to accomplish the mission.

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Operation New Horizons is an annual joint forces operation where all four branches of the U.S. military reach out to countries in need.

"I completed my duty in July and August," Barnhart said. "We visited an orphanage every Monday to drop off food and supplies as well as visit with the team to provide medical, dental and optical treatment to the kids."

The team provided treatment to sometimes more than 600 people in a day. Some of the smaller villages averaged about 250 patients per day, he said.

"This was a very rewarding part of my time in Peru. You could see that the villagers were a little apprehensive about accepting the treatment, but most of the ones that came in really needed it," Barnhart said.

During his stay, Barnhart, 35, assisted a Navy dentist, and worked in the pharmacy and the optometrist office to help distribute medicine and glasses.

"It is really something to be there when a child puts on glasses for the first time. They were so happy to be able to see clearly. It was also gratifying to see adults, as well. They were sometimes just as giddy as the children to be seeing clearly," Barnhart said.

Barnhart said it is hard to believe that people live in such poverty, but knowing that the team improved their way of life was worth the time spent away from his family.

Barnhart, a graduate of South Hagerstown High School, and his wife have three sons and are expecting another child.

"After showing my family the pictures, they understood why I was away and what the Marines were doing," Barnhart said.

Barnhart has been a reservist for 17 years following his active service in the Marine Corps. His unit is based in Willow Grove, Pa.

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