LAPWAI, Idaho - Arizona, Idaho, Minnesota and Nevada National Guard members provided medical, dental and eye care for Native American Tribes in Idaho and Nevada as part of Operation Nimiipuu Health in May.
Approximately 100 National Guard Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen cared for the Nez Perce Tribe and the surrounding community of Lapwai May 16-18, and similar care, in addition to behavioral health services, to members of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes and Duck Valley, Nevada, community May 22-25.
“We were able to provide supplemental health services to the tribes that help the tribal health facilities, which is extremely significant since COVID-19 created a backlog of health services in these communities,” said Lt. Col. Tina Williams, Idaho National Guard Medical Detachment chief case manager. “For every patient we can see, we free up the local clinics to see that many more patients.”
Operation Nimiipuu Health is an office of Secretary of Defense Reserve Affairs-sponsored, Army National Guard-led, multi-service training event.
Throughout the operation, Soldiers and Airmen performed more than 3,700 procedures for almost 800 patients at the two locations.
Guardsmen cared for more than 550 people from Lapwai, Kamiah and Kooskia while building relationships with tribal leaders, community elders and members of the Nimiipuu tribe.
At Duck Valley, Guardsmen detected a tumor on a young patient, assisted a man in the early stages of a heart attack, and provided care to a woman who was at risk of going blind had her detached retina gone undetected much longer. Soldiers and Airmen also provided educational classes to students and participated in cultural events honoring the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes.
The mission was part of the Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training program, which provides military members with hands-on, real-world training to improve readiness while offering key services to American communities.
“The skills that I’m reinforcing here at the IRT is patient interactions, making them comfortable, and working with them to provide them the care that they need,” said Senior Airman Gianna Gabrielli, a dental technician assigned to the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 133 Airlift Wing.
The collaborative program leverages military contributions and community resources to benefit community members while building partnerships between the National Guard and local communities.
“I’ve seen patients come in here who don’t normally come to our clinic because they may be worried about being seen by someone they know in the local community,” said Crystal Kelly, Owyhee Community Health Facility tribal health administrative assistant. “It’s been great to be able to collaborate with the National Guard on these programs. It really increases the opportunity for the tribal community to get free medical care and build relationships with the National Guard members while they are here.”
The Idaho National Guard conducts several IRT projects with multiple tribes a year and was activated to assist the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.
“This IRT event addresses all three of my imperatives for the Idaho National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho. “It sharpens our combat medical treatment skills, responds to the disparate health conditions which exist in these communities, and continues to build on our strong relationships with the Native American tribes throughout Idaho.”