WISE, Va. – Military medical specialists from the U.S. Air National Guard, Air Force, Air Force Reserve, Army, Army Reserve and Navy Reserve are coming together Aug. 16-29 to conduct hands-on readiness training while simultaneously providing medical care for the underserved public in Appalachia.
The no-cost medical clinic, staged temporarily at Wise County Fairgrounds near the Kentucky-Virginia border, is facilitated under the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program. Military medical specialists began receiving patients Aug. 18. and have already treated more than 160 individuals in their first two days of operation alone.
“The IRT is a program developed by the Department of Defense that helps synergize our capabilities by doing joint-service work, optimizing the training funds we have, and as a byproduct, providing no-cost medical care to local communities in need,” said Maj. Michael Sobran, chief of medical administration, 110th Medical Group, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan. “We’re also enhancing our capability with training as U.S. military medical services.”
Sobran is officer-in-charge of the Appalachian Care 2019 team, which consists of more than 130 personnel representing a cross-section of the U.S. armed forces. The highly skilled cadre is providing a wide range of services at no cost to patients including optical, dental, veterinary, and general medical care. Unsurprisingly, the planning process for a mission of this scope and visibility is extensive.
“The 110th MDG was notified in August 2018 that we were awarded the role of lead unit for Appalachian Care 2019,” said Capt. Jonathan Stein, medical administration officer, 110th MDG. “Our job in the year since has been to start our own evaluation, determine manpower, credentialing, scope of the medical work, equipment and resources.”
The 110th MDG has previously supported IRT missions in California, Kentucky, Alaska, and Puerto Rico. This is the first time it has been selected as an IRT lead unit. Between the 110th MDG and the 127th Medical Group, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, approximately 30 Airmen from the Michigan Air National Guard are supporting Appalachian Care 2019.
Partnering with the Appalachian Care IRT mission is The Health Wagon, a nurse practitioner-managed 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides clinical services throughout Virginia’s western counties. The Health Wagon initiated a request for assistance from the IRT program to bring military medical services to the underserved public in Appalachia, one of the most economically challenged regions in America.
“There continues to be an extensive need for dental and eye services even in light of the best efforts that we have provided with past clinics,” said Dr. Teresa Tyson, executive director of The Health Wagon. “The health care needs here in the region are great.”
In addition to providing critically needed services to U.S. citizens, the Airmen, Soldiers, and Sailors that make up the Appalachian Care 2019 team say the hands-on experiences they are gaining in Virginia are important to ensuring their readiness to deliver health care in times of crisis, conflict or disaster.
“I think it’s awesome that the Air Force, Army and Navy are all working together here,” said Staff Sgt. Kirstin James, medical technician, 127th MDG. “That’s what we would do if we were deployed. I’m learning about the different rank structures, processes, and terminology.”
Senior Airman Rick Burnett, medical technician, 127th MDG, agrees that the experience gained on this IRT goes exponentially deeper than typical training events held at home station.
“The benefit of this IRT for us is getting to work with live patients outside of our clinic at home,” he said. “Being able to work with a different populace than we normally see – different age demographics, different medical challenges – it all takes us out of our norm, which is a good experience.”
With clear mutual benefit, the IRT program is a win-win for participating U.S. military personnel and impacted communities alike. Its heart and soul, however, is the genuine connection between provider and patient.
“This is my fourth IRT,” said Sobran. “Each time, it has been personally rewarding to interact with the communities, to connect with the citizens on a human level and to let them know that the U.S. military exists to do much more than conduct combat operations; we are truly here to be a force for good.”