Twenty-eight members of the Maryland Air National Guard recently completed a 14-day mission to provide healthcare to underserved communities in Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois.
The mission, which ran from June 12-25, was part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program, or IRT. IRT leverages military deployment training to provide such services as healthcare, construction, transportation and cybersecurity to communities in the U.S. IRT projects are approved by the Department of Defense and chosen by units when the requested services align with unit mission-essential training tasks.
This IRT mission was led by the Air National Guard. In addition to the Maryland Guard, it included sizeable contingents from Alaska’s 176th Wing, Indiana’s 181st Intelligence Wing, and the Navy Reserve. Personnel from the Air Force Reserve and the active duty Army, Navy and Air Force rounded out the deployment. The 175th Medical Group led the Maryland force, which also included two 175th Wing chaplains, two members of the wing public affairs staff and a public affairs officer from Joint Force Headquarters.
The Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors worked in cooperation with the Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation to provide no-cost healthcare services at locations in Sikeston, Mo.; Barlow, Ky.; and Cairo, Ill. Dubbed “DAEOC Tri-State IRT,” the mission provided medical, dental and optometry services at all three sites. Maryland Guard Airmen were about evenly split between the Sikeston and Cairo sites, with a smaller group at Barlow.
The three clinics provided physical health exams, school sports physicals and blood pressure and disease screenings. Dental services consisted of exams, cleanings, fillings, and extractions. Eye care services included vision screenings and prescriptions. Single-vision eyeglasses were also provided. Some sites provided additional services, such as counselling.
“The services provided through this IRT mission benefit the community by giving them a chance to get care without having insurance,” said Airman 1st Class Kendall Stipsak, a medical administrator assigned to the 175th Medical Group. “The closest hospital is 30 minutes away so having these services gives people the opportunity to receive healthcare they may not have had for a long time.”
Military healthcare providers saw a total of 3,337 patients during the effort, which was open to the public June 14-22. Healthcare providers performed a total of 21,964 medical, dental, optometric and other healthcare procedures during the mission, with a total estimated value to the community of $1,359,920.
According to Lt. Col. Jessica Mathios, public health officer at the 175th Medical Group and the wing’s lead planner for the mission, Maryland’s involvement began last October, when another unit cancelled.
“When we found out we’d been selected to participate, all we had to do was ask and we had pretty much all the volunteers we needed,” she said. Several planning meetings, numerous teleconferences and eight months later, the Maryland Airmen were on their way.
The mission was not without its challenges, including occasionally severe weather and multiple power outages. Some roads were also inaccessible due to recent flooding in the region, which is traversed by the Mississippi River.
Nevertheless, the members of the 175th left the deployment with generally positive impressions.
It was the first IRT mission for Tech. Sgt. Susan Jefferson, an aerospace medicine specialist with the 175th Medical Group, but she says it won’t be her last.
“We have had a great experience working with our community partners as well as with our multiservice personnel,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful experience with regards to giving back to the community… I love it and I will definitely do another IRT.”
That opportunity might not be far off. The program is considering a major IRT mission in Baltimore next year, and local National Guard units are expected to play significant roles if it occurs.