ARMEDCOM: changing lives; building readiness

By Lt. Col. Angela Wallace | Army Reserve Medical Command | July 5, 2017

LAREDO, Texas — Nearly 125 U.S. Army Reserve medical professionals including doctors, dentists, nurses, optometrists, dieticians and physical therapists assigned to Army Reserve Medical Command’s 7458th Medical Backfill Battalion, out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, worked in partnership with U.S. Navy opticians and Texas A&M University students to provide health care services to individuals living in Webb County, Texas at from June 19-29, 2017.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commanding general for U.S. Army North, explained why missions like this are so important and mutually beneficial for military personnel and the residents of the Colonias, which are unincorporated communities living without one or more major infrastructures such electricity, paved roads, storm drainage, sewage systems, access to potable water and internet.

“The more work like this project that we can do, the more we can increase the resiliency of all of our communities, and the less need is there for places like Webb County to ask for help. It’s tremendously helpful for us – it builds readiness, and we help make our communities more resilient,” said Buchanan.

Services provided by military personnel are done as part of the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training, a civil-military program that builds mutually beneficial partnerships between U.S. communities and the DoD to meet training and readiness requirements for active Army, National Guard and Army Reserve service members while addressing public and civil society needs.

Building lasting relationships with communities and learning from each other are also great benefits of this program explained Maj. Gen. Mary Link, commanding general for ARMEDCOM.

“It’s an honor for all of us to put this uniform on, to assist the community and work together with the community and our partners, Texas A&M and Webb County. Along with our medical personnel, we also have students from Texas A&M who are working alongside our Soldiers, learning from them and getting some new experiences,” Link said.

Maj. Jose Cangas, a general dentist assigned to the 7458th MBB, also shared the importance of those experiences.

“What’s beautiful about this mission is that if you ask any of our Soldiers why we’re here, they are all going to say that we’re here to help these people that need our help, but the truth of the matter is that half the people that are here with us on the dental team don’t do dentistry in their civilian lives. We’re here so that they can get the experience they need so that if they’re called out to places like Afghanistan or Iraq next month, they have the skills necessary to fulfill that mission,” said Cangas.

Though readiness is a military priority for these missions, one would not have to go far to hear numerous stories about how these services were changing lives.

Oscar Munoz, director for the Texas A&M Colonias Program, shared one of those stories.

“One of our center directors, Greg Araiza with Larga Vista, got the first shipment of glasses, and right away he started calling people to pick them up,” recalled Munoz.

“A couple came down to his office, sat in front of him and he gives each of them their pair of glasses. The woman put on her glasses and the only thing she could do was look at her hands. Then she looked at her husband. The center director then looked at the husband and he was doing the same thing. He was looking at his hands. Then she told the center director ‘I have not been able to see my hands for many years.’ The center director said he had to turn around because he didn’t want to cry in front of them, but both the husband and wife were crying because they were finally able to see their hands,” said Munoz.

A team of Navy and Army medical professionals from Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity (NOSTRA), based in Yorktown, Virginia, were at the forefront of eyeglass fabrication for this IRT mission. Their goal is to provide glasses to each person who needs a pair, and in a two-week period, NOSTRA may fabricate as many as 7,000 pair of spectacles depending upon the areas serviced and the number of patients screened. For the Texas A&M Colonias mission, the team fabricated 1,740 pairs of glasses for Colonias residents.

During the two week period, more than 16,300 medical and dental services were provided to nearly 5,000 residents, including general exams, school exams, nutrition counseling, physical therapy, dental exams and x-rays, general cleaning and extractions. Additionally, representatives from Webb County Public Health also provided childhood immunizations.

“We are transforming lives in the Colonias. We are creating capacity – everywhere. We are creating sustainability. We built it in to the plan so that this work can be sustained,” Munoz concluded.

Army Reserve Medical Command’s mission is to provide trained, equipped, medically proficient units and Citizen-Soldiers to meet global requirements across unified land operations.

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