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By Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez
Delaware National Guard
Guard, Active and Reserve component service members concluded medical care services provided by Central Delaware Partnership for Hope 2021 Innovative Readiness Training program Aug. 9, 2021.
After two weeks, service members from multiple states fabricated roughly 1,800 prescription glasses—the most glasses produced at an IRT— and provided nearly 5,800 dental, 6,100 medical, 4,900 optometry services totaling more than $1.3 million at no cost to more than 3,200 patients.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky and incredibly privileged to lead a mission like this to work with such excellent Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines,” said Capt. Jason Brooks, Central Delaware Partnership for Hope IRT officer in charge. “This mission has just been a dream come true,” Brooks added.
The joint-medical training that brought together Army, Marine, Navy and Air Force Guard and Reserve units kicked off Aug. 1 at three locations in Dover with the goal to provide direct and lasting benefits to underserved communities.
“It’s a wonderful service,” said a Central Delaware resident who received optometry and dental care. “I don’t have good dental coverage and what coverage I have has already run out,” she added. “It was worth the drive,” she said about the roughly hour-long drive to the site. “I’m so grateful for it.”
About 25% of Dover’s population lives below the poverty line. For them, getting health care can be challenging.
“I am grateful for this and I know there are so many other people that are too because you’re helping us get services that we couldn’t normally have,” said another area resident.
The experience at IRT also allowed service members to see first-hand the impact of the services they provided.
“It touched my heart, it touched my soul,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Cody Gilstrap, 4th Dental Battalion, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas, about witnessing the effect of receiving dental care had on a patient.
However, patients are not the only ones benefiting from the program. IRT was an opportunity for the nearly 250 service members to receive additional operational training totaling an estimated 116 hours of training per service member.
“In a longer, broader scope people take away more than just their training value out of this mission,” Brooks said. “I think it’s value added beyond the training portion. It’s value added to the community.”
IRT also offered service members an opportunity to tap into each other’s skills to overcome challenges. One challenge at the sites was closing the language gap between providers and patients.
“I’ve had a few instances where a patient’s native language was the only language they spoke,” said Air Force Reservist Capt. Carmelo Blanquicett, medical provider, 94th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia. “In that sense, it was essential that we’re able to communicate what needs they may have.”
Learning a new skill set was another opportunity that developed.
“We learn a bigger picture of medicine for the military,” said Sgt. Cabot Peden, a Wyoming Army National Guard combat medic working as a dental technician during IRT. “I think it’s cool to get out of Cheyenne and to get out of our norm, to get out of our comfort zone a little bit and have to deal with different situations like we do in the real world and downrange.”
As service members continue to pack up equipment and return to their home units, many will bring back a unique experience.
“The reason I like the IRT program is that it lets us see patients,” said Lt. Col. Benjamin Uhl, optometrist, 185th Medical Group, Iowa Air National Guard. “We don’t really get to see patients in our normal day-to-day drills so coming on an event like this is really rewarding.”
The rewarding sentiment is echoed by Spc. Patrick Northrup, a medic with the Wyoming National Guard Medical Detachment.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get out and work with some of the other units to really hone our skills and provide that service to the population where they may not otherwise have access to some of the things that we’re offering here.”
The impression left on the community by service members is summed up by Brooks.
“Being able to work directly with the community, to see the value of their work on the faces of those that they encounter is priceless. To hear the ‘thank yous,’ to see the response from the community, to see the outpouring of support from those that we’re serving is genuinely heartwarming.”