Army Reserve Soldiers Provide Care to Colonias

By Capt. Joseph Bush | 215th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment | June 23, 2017

LAREDO, Texas — U.S. Army Reserve deployed about 40 Soldiers from the 7226th Medical Support Unit out of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on June 19 as part of the Texas A&M Colonias Innovative Readiness Training. This is one of four sites around Laredo, Texas, and Webb County as part of the joint civilian and military project designed to bring free medical aid and assistance to people living in these rural border communities called colonias.

“Our mission is basically to provide medical, dental and optometry care as well as provide some psycho-social educational classes,” said Lt. Col Nicolette Dennis, commanding officer of the 7226th MSU. “We serve in different capacities not just on the front line but also in the medical field to provide a better quality of life for the communities.”

Many of the local residents may have been wary of the U.S. military inserting itself so close to the border.

“Once they come here they feel free because they know that this program, with all these Soldiers here, they are doing good for the community,” said Marco Antonio Escamilla, the activity director at the community center in El Cenizo. “It’s because all the people that are coming in, they go and tell their neighbors, their friends, their family and their relatives that they are coming here to help us out”

“That’s a very strong message because people will say the truth of what is happening you know, and that’s a big blessing for this community and for all of us,” Escamilla added.

The overall medical mission is run by the 7458th Medical Backfill Battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and have four medical sites with 125 medical professionals in and around the Laredo area. In just the first two days of operation the 7458th MBB have collectively seen 300 medical, 250 dental, and 250 optometry patients, and expect the numbers to rise as they continue this mission until June 29. The El Cenizo site alone has already seen 260 patients, and expects to see 1,000 to 1,500.

Many of the colonias, that the medical teams are set up in, are severely improvised communities. Most of the residents can’t afford basic health care, or are unable travel to the main hospital in Laredo to receive it.

“It makes a lot of difference in our life. A hundred dollars now days it’s something that you don’t have to spend and save it for our families,” said Marco. “Getting that service free, you know it really helps a lot.”

Seeing the need for health care in the Texas A&M Colonias, named for the small villages they service, helped Webb county officials request support from the Department of Defense to obtain support these colonia neighborhoods.

“If they take care of their primary medical needs they can’t afford extra,” said Oscar Munoz, director for Colonias program in Laredo. “Already, we have seen the colonias residents, 98 to 99 percent are U.S. citizens or Veterans and are receiving dental and vision care. So it’s a huge difference in the community.”

The Army Reserve Soldiers here expect to hand out nearly 7,000 pairs of free eyeglasses to the residents. The mission is combined with Sailors from the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity to make the glasses here on site in Laredo, so the patients can get their new glasses as soon as the following day.

Sgt. Darren Thompson, an Army Eye Specialist, with the 7226th MSU conducted basic screenings for visual acuity at the El Cenizo site with local residents. He said the biggest challenge was the language barrier.

“They recognize that most of us don’t know the language, and the ones that do always help. Never a frown on their face, they are just so willing to help us. Just so many smiles,” said Thompson.

“I think this makes me more communal. It puts me in different situation that I wouldn’t be in before,” said Thompson. “I think that it was amazing that I am a part of a unit that can be out here to help people to provide medical care, screenings and preventative care.”

“I think we are doing a lot of good and they are very appreciated” Thompson added.

“We are able to do what we are trained to do by the military and even enhance our skills by working with different populations and becoming more culturally competent too,” said Dennis. “It’s a win-win for the military and it also strengthens our relationships with the community because ultimately the bottom line is we are here as Soldiers to serve.”

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