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NEWS | July 16, 2018

Army multicomponent medical mission makes lasting impression in local community

By Lt. Col. Angela Wallace Army Reserve Medical Command

A 7-year-old little girl, joined by her mother, walked through the front doors of Harrisburg Middle School to be greeted by volunteers who would escort her to her first encounter with a dentist. Not just any dentist and not the normal location for dental care either, but a dentist with a military uniform joined by a friendly military team who would distract her, reducing her fears while taking care of her teeth for the first time in her young life. Before the little girl left, she told the team that she wanted to be a dentist when she grew up.

This is one of thousands of stories about lives being positively changed that can be witnessed first-hand during a Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training mission, and just one of the many stories for the Southeast Illinois Wellness IRT mission held in Harrisburg, Illinois, June 18-27, 2018.

“We are honored to be able to put on our uniform and work together with community partners to provide needed medical services here in America. The Southern Illinois Innovative Readiness Training mission provides real-world training opportunities for our Soldiers to use their military skills while supporting the needs of the community, which is a win for everyone,” said Maj. Gen. Mary Link, Army Reserve Medical Command commanding general. 

“Our Soldiers are excited to work with Harrisburg residents, building a stronger connection between the military and the communities that we and our families call home,” said Link.

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers assigned to Army Reserve Medical Command’s 7215th Medical Support Unit based out of St. Louis, Missouri, and U.S. Army medical personnel assigned to 24th Med. Det., 44th Med. Bde., based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in partnership with Delta Regional Authority and the state of Illinois, offered a variety of health care services to Saline County residents during their ten day mission. 

The services provided by the U.S. Army and Army Reserve personnel are done through the DoD’s IRT initiative, a civil-military program that builds mutually beneficial partnerships between U.S. communities and the military. 

The officer-in-charge for the 7215th MSU, Lt. Col. Milton Fowler, said they had been preparing for the mission a long time.

“We started preparing for this mission in November of 2017. It takes cooperation as well as multiple planning sessions to prepare for a mission like this. We’ve been working with our civilian counterparts at Delta Regional Authority as well as with Harrisburg’s local community leaders,” Fowler said.

The Delta Regional Authority is a federal-state partnership created by Congress in 2000 to help create jobs, build communities, and improve lives through strategic investments in economic development in 252 counties and parishes across eight states. Joint IRT missions involving DoD and DRA have been conducted for nine years and have delivered medical services to 80,000 Delta residents in 16 rural communities.

DRA Chairman Chris Caldwell, emphasized the personal connection these missions make with the communities receiving the vital medical services. “This is really a story about Americans helping Americans. 

“This military team is taking time out of their every day lives away from their families to be here to help us, and the great part about that is this is a two-way street. This is also helping them be mission ready for what might come, and training them,” Caldwell stated.

Caldwell lauded the mission for its tangible results, improving the lives of local residents. “I never walk away from one of these missions without being touched by somebody’s life that’s been drastically changed, and am sure there are many stories like that here,” Caldwell said.

One of the not-so-local residents, Joshua Pettit, shared his experience after driving almost 200 miles in order to receive the no-cost services.

“A lot of people don’t have the luxury of regularly going to the doctor or dentist because they can’t afford it, and I’m one of those people. It was cheaper for us to drive the 200 miles to come here to get the assistance then to go to a local dentist,” said Pettit.

“This is the first time to see a dentist in my life. I grew up in a family that couldn’t afford to take us to the dentist. Had it not been for this mission with the military, and what they’ve set up here in Illinois, I probably wouldn’t have had the ability to go to the dentist,” he said.

Though dental services were his primary reason for making the long trek, Pettit soon learned there were many other services he could benefit from. 

“I came here specifically to get dental work done and see if there’s anything wrong with my teeth, because I have never had the opportunity to do that before. Once I got here, I realized there were other services that were offered, and that gave me the opportunity to learn things I didn’t know about myself,” Pettit explained.

“I, for one, am very grateful to have that opportunity. I support our troops fully, and now have a greater appreciation for our country and for the leaders enabling these programs,” he concluded.

More than 2,000 medical and dental services were provided to over 1,075 residents, including general exams, school exams, nutrition counseling, physical therapy, dental exams and x-rays, general cleaning and extractions, and nearly 550 pairs of eyeglasses were fabricated and distributed to residents in need during the two week period.