By Air National Guard Maj. Guy Hayes
Alaska National Guard
NOME, Alaska (4/18/12) – Blanketed with ice and snow on the Bering Sea coast, most villages here are isolated by miles of open landscape and accessible only by snowmobile and air transportation.
However, 285 Guard members, Reservists and active-duty service members have braved the elements this week to bring care to Alaskans in need as part of Operation Arctic Care 2012.
“We’ve already assisted 2,708 people and performed 5,049 procedures in the first week,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Sharolyn Lange, the task force medical commander for Operation Arctic Care 2012, Alaska Air Guard. “It’s going very well, and we are now in the process of switching main body teams from one village to another to serve the final five villages.”
With operations ongoing in 11 of the 16 scheduled villages in Alaska, Arctic Care personnel from across the nation are embracing their opportunity to train and serve here in the land of the midnight sun.
“This has been an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Army Capt. Wade Kinshella, a medical detachment registered nurse, Colorado National Guard. “It’s a wonderful experience and the kids are the best. They are happy to see us, and we’re happy to see their smiles.”
Kinshella is currently in Brevig Mission overseeing medical operations, training medics, ensuring providers have what they need and assisting with procedures. Next, he and his team are headed to Little Diomede Island, a town with a population of only 80 people and one of the most remote locations in America.
“We are happy we’ve been able to provide medical, dental, optometry and vet care here and look forward to helping more people on Little Diomede,” Kinshella said. “We are trying to take it all in and be respectful of their heritage and culture. We’ve eaten seal and listened to stories about their people, tradition and culture; it’s been unbelievable.”
Like Kinshella, Arctic Care has been a career highlight for many who are here and a unique opportunity to help provide the basic services that many of us take for granted each day.
“The Navy has a team called NOSTRA, it’s a deployable optical fabrication squad from Virginia,” Lange said. “They are actually making glasses for people the same day as their appointment and getting the glasses back out to the villages in less than 24 hours.”
Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity, specializes in providing quality eyewear to America’s armed forces. They are an elite group of military specialists who understand the importance of readiness and have the ability to process orders anywhere in short period of time.
“We’ve processed 460 glasses in five days,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Quentin Moncrieft, a NOSTRA technician. “Once we receive a request via fax here in Nome, we start to process the order.”
Moncrieft is one of four NOSTRA technicians sent to Nome to make glasses each day for orders coming from Arctic Care optometrists working in the villages.
“We grab a tray and lens, scope the lens, block and cut the lens to frame size, bevel the lens to cut any sharp edges off and then put them in the frame,” Moncrieft said. “We then scope the new lenses to verify the prescription is correct, bag them up and send them back to the village.”
From start to finish, Moncrieft and fellow NOSTRA service members from Yorktown, Va., are able to make new glasses in only about 10 minutes, saving rural residents a significant amount of time and money.
“Normally patients would have to travel from their village to Nome or Anchorage to visit an optometrist,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Swan, a NOSTRA technician. “The transportation out of their village, cost of visiting with an optometrist, cost of the glasses, and then travel home saves them more than $1,000.”
“It’s definitely rewarding because we are contributing and giving back to the community,” Moncrieft said. “I’m really glad I had the opportunity to be a part of Operation Arctic Care and help the people of Alaska.”
Sponsored by the Innovative Readiness Training program under the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, Arctic Care is bringing health care and veterinary support to residents in the Bering Strait and Norton Sound regions of western Alaska from April 9-23.