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Military training mission serves thousands in Maui County

By Capt. Hans Zeiger | 194th Wing | Aug. 21, 2018

MAUI COUNTY, Hawaii—Tropic Care Maui County 2018, a U.S. military Innovative Readiness Training mission to provide no-cost medical, dental, counseling and vision care to the public on Maui, Molokai, and Lanai, concluded on Sunday, eight days after it began. By then, health services personnel from the Air National Guard, Navy Reserve, Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps had performed 17,757 procedures. In dollar terms, the value of health services totaled around $1.6 million.

Nearly 350 military service members partnered with community leaders and volunteers to deliver services at six locations in the islands: Kihei, Central Maui, Hana, Lahaina, Molokai and Lanai.

"The patients are just so happy we're here and we immediately reflect that back upon them that we're excited to be here," said Lt. Col. Virginia Gilmore of the Maine Air National Guard's 101st Medical Group. Gilmore is an optometrist who served at the Lahaina clinic at Waiola Church. "We've had several patients who are prior service. They're happy to share stories about their time in the military, and we're happy to hear it and thank them for their service. It's that long-term respect for people who've worn the uniform."

"It's an awesome service for our community," said Mice Kahula, who works for the Maui County Parks Department and served as the civilian logistics manager for the Hana site.

Community site coordinators began planning for the Tropic Care mission in the fall of 2017, working closely with military planners and working to recruit volunteers. Volunteers took on different leadership roles. "There is such a great willingness to help," said Capt. Tyler Smith of the Washington Air National Guard's 194th Medical Group, the officer in charge at the Hana site. "Our community partners have been great in giving us what we need to serve their community."

Word spread through county flyers, signs, radio advertisements, news coverage, and word of mouth—what some in the islands refer to as "coconut wireless," according to Claire Kamalu Carroll, the civilian site coordinator in Hana. "Word spread about physicals in the seventh grade," said U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Scott Byrd, the assistant officer in charge at Hana.

Word also spread about the availability of eyeglasses—over the course of the nine-day Tropic Care mission, service members fabricated over 2,820 eyeglasses at no cost to the patient, thanks to a partnership between Air National Guard communications personnel and active duty Army, Navy Reserve, and Air Guard optical fabricators who set up operations at the National Guard Armory in Puunene. "The computer system that the communications guys made us saved us so much time," said U.S. Navy Reserve Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Camille Arbues of the Naval Opthalmic Support and Training Activity. "It leveled the work flow and saved paper, with zero lost orders," added Lt. Col. Robert Forbes of the Washington Air National Guard's 194th Medical Group, the optometry officer in charge for the mission.

"People have been astonished when they show up and find out what we can do for them," said Capt. Stephanie Kelly of the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Medical Group, a medical provider at the Hana clinic.

"There has been a positive response to the services, but also the speed of the services," said Master Sgt. Paul Castillo of the Washington Air National Guard's 194th Medical Group, the non-commissioned officer in charge at the Lahaina clinic. Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa said that he had heard from a number of county residents who received speedy services at Tropic Care clinics. People have told him things like, "I just got dental care and can't believe they did it so quickly," he told an audience of military and civic leaders on Thursday.

Military planners also began their work last fall, developing relationships with community leaders, assigning personnel to key roles, and recruiting service members from military units across the country to travel to Maui County this month.

"We've had great communication and cooperation between the services," said Castillo. "We have a team camaraderie," said U.S. Navy Reserve HM2 Brian O'Donnell, a dental technician in Lahaina. "Different branches, different traditions, but we're here for the same mission."

Not only has the mission brought together military members, it has also brought together longtime community members in the islands.

In Hana last Monday, volunteers and patients sat talking outside the clinic, set up at the town's community center. Among them was Josephine Roselea Helekahi, a long-time Hana School teacher who was known for teaching Hawaiian language and hula. "This clinic is bringing people together," said Karen Helekahi Redo, Helekahi's daughter. "People have been showing up and greeting each other with hugs and kisses," said Kelly.

When military and civic leaders gathered for a meeting on Thursday morning before touring clinics at Kihei, Central Maui, and Lahaina, speakers noted the importance of teamwork in fulfilling the Tropic Care mission. "After going through this whole experience, if we set a goal and work collaboratively, we can achieve anything," said Lynn Araki Regan, the chief of staff to Mayor Alan Arakawa and civilian incident commander for the Tropic Care mission. "No task is too big when done together by all," added Kalani Holokai of the Hawaii State Department of Health, the logistics manager for Tropic Care, quoting a Hawaiian saying.

Tropic Care Innovative Readiness Training previously came to Maui County in 2013, and IRT programs have taken place throughout the United States since the early 1990s, providing hands-on readiness training for health care as well as engineering personnel. The IRT mission statement is "To produce mission-ready forces through military training opportunities that provide key services for American communities."