A group of Fort Snelling-based Army Reservists will be leaving soon for a mission to El Salvador. It's not covert, it's humanitarian.

A company from the 452nd Combat Support Hospital will be engaging in what the military calls "medical diplomacy." About 70 members of the unit will be travelling to the San Vicente region in south central El Salvador to provide medical assistance. The group includes doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin as well as nurses from throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. It also includes pharmacists, dental professionals, orthopedic cast technicians and even veterinary personnel.

It is part of a program in conjunction with the State Department and the Department of Defense called "Beyond the Horizons," in which Guard and Reserve troops do construction work and provide medical assistance in countries like El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Haiti. Host countries make the request and the soldiers work in conjunction with U.S. embassies. The program also extends to African countries such as Uganda and parts of eastern Europe.

"Medical diplomacy is not just treating the problem but training medical professionals and the people there to better care for themselves," said Maj. Matt Lawrence, a spokesman for the 807th Medical Deployment Support Command, headquarters for the Minnesota group.

The soldiers will be part of three two-week rotations. Besides their work with the locals, they'll support a National Guard engineering unit that has been part of a program constructing schools, bridges, community centers, and drilling wells. It's the first time the group from Minnesota will take the lead in the medical mission, said Maj. Patricia Osmon, a member of Bravo Company who is a physical therapist in civilian life. The unit is almost entirely made up of civilian Reservists.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434