COLUMBUS, Ga. –
Virginia and Massachusetts National Guard Soldiers and Airmen supported a no-cost health clinic offering vision, dental and other basic medical services Aug. 3-18, 2022, in the Columbus, Georgia, area. The clinic was part of the Department of Defense-funded Innovative Readiness Training program with the missions of serving the local community and training military personnel to increase readiness for real-world response operations.
According to the mission executive summary, more than 2,700 patients received care at four different sites, and medical professionals performed almost 12,000 procedures as well as fabricating and distributing more than 1,000 pairs of eyeglasses. The fair market value of services was more than $1.2 million.
“We feel incredibly proud to be serving this community, and the benefit for the unit has been tremendous in terms of what we bring back to the commonwealth,” said Maj. Robert Hart, commander of the VNG’s Charlottesville-based Charlie Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “In addition to real world training in their specific duty functions, our Soldiers were able to work in a joint environment they would not normally take part in. It really is a great opportunity for our Soldiers to understand everything from the capabilities of our joint service counterparts or where some of the shortfalls might be where we could fill the gaps.”
Hart also said for the first time Charlie Company will bring back instructors validated to teach Tactical Combat Casualty Care to other Virginia Army and Air National Guard medical personnel. TCCC the U.S. Department of Defense Defense Health Agency Joint Trauma System for life-saving techniques and strategies for providing the best trauma care on the battlefield. More than 80 personnel completed the training and became certified to conduct the instruction with their home station units.
Army medics assigned to Charlie Company helped in-process patients at the clinic, took vital signs and other initial health checks, and providers including a doctor, dentist, physicians assistant, physical therapists and nurses worked directly with patients.
Hart said he often hears from Charlie Company Soldiers they would like to get more real-world experience with patients, so supporting the clinic helped provide that experience.
"This is the first opportunity we have really had to do that consistently with real patients," Hart said. “Even our Soldiers who are providers in their civilian careers are not seeing the same types of cases.”
More than 160 personnel from different uniformed services supported the event with the Massachusetts National Guard’s 102nd Intelligence Wing serving as the lead mission command element. VNG Soldiers assigned to the Charlie Company and Airmen from multiple states, active duty and reserve U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy as well as the U.S. Public Health Service personnel supported the clinic.
“The benefit of the joint environment is a shared language and shared training standard across the service components,” Hart said. “The standardization is really important.”
Hart explained how each service faces different challenges in providing care and has developed different approaches to finding solutions, and in the TCCC training environment they have a common framework to share all those different experiences to increase readiness and approve their ability respond.
Spc. Vanessa Lee, a combat medic assigned to Charlie Company, said supporting the clinic has been a great experience with a lot of training value. In addition to performing her duties as medic, she said she had the opportunity to see things she might normally not see see like dental, optometry and veterinary services. She also learned new approaches to patient care she plans to take back to her civilian health care career.
She said her experiences with the patients was very positive and they expressed appreciation for their support.
“They make you feel very proud to be doing what you are doing and helping their community,” Lee said.
According to the mission executive summary, “Valley Healthcare Innovative Readiness Training was a real-world joint operational mission with a collaborative goal of military deployment training and medical care for underserved populations in the states of Georgia and Alabama. One of the desired outcomes was to provide no cost healthcare services including primary medical, dental, optometry, behavioral health, physical therapy, pharmacy and veterinary health care in conjunction with community partners Valley Healthcare System Inc. and Columbus Piedmont Regional Healthcare.”
The mission was executed at four different locations: Columbus Civic Center in Columbus, Georgia, Providence Baptist Church in Opelika, Alabama, a remote site near Stewart County High School in Lumpkin, Georgia as well as a one-day veterinary clinic held in conjunction with the Paws Humane Society in Columbus.
Hart explained planning began 18 months ago. His team along with brigade- and state-level operations staff looked at IRT opportunities across the country and they applied for the mission in Columbus because it seemed to be a good match for the unit’s capabilities.
Lt. Col. Raymond Martin, the officer in charge of the mission and a dentist assigned to the Cape Cod, Massachusetts-based 102nd Medical Group, 102nd Intelligence Wing, said the overreaching goals were to provide training and medical care for their fellow Americans.
He set three expectations for all the personnel involved with the first two being to give 100 percent to patient care in order to do the most good with the time they had and being professional in everything they did. The third was to share stories so all the participants, as well as the patients, could learn from each other.
“When we tell each other a story, we find out about the other person’s experiences in the other services to promote joint mindedness and find out about patients to promote humanity and listen to where they have been and what they have been through,” Martin said. “By telling each other stories, we learn about each other and we empathize with each other.”
In addition to the TCCC training and the care provided to the patients, the clinic was also run using field equipment similar to what service members would see in a deployed environment, Martin said.
“I feel like we accomplished a ton of training,” Martin said. “Our forces are better prepared for combat casualty and trauma care.”
IRT is a DOD program providing joint training opportunities to increase deployment readiness and key services like health care, construction, transportation and cybersecurity with lasting benefits for American communities. Learn more about the IRT program and how to apply at https://ngpa.us/21097
“This has been fantastic,” Martin said. “It has been a long arduous process to get here, but it has been one of the best experiences of my life. Any opportunity we have to give back to our fellow Americans and try to help lift them up is really good because it gets you in tune with our people and how we can better their lives.”