KODIAK, Alaska –
Training missions come in all shapes and sizes — and locations. Think “The Box.” But they all come with the same challenge of making it interesting, making it realistic, and getting Soldiers engaged and excited about serving in the military. The Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission of Arctic Care on Kodiak Island, Alaska, in May 2022 checked all those blocks.
“We aren’t using simulators or mannequins to train our Soldiers. We are engaging with real patients - exactly what we would do in a deployed environment - and honing our medical skills while serving the community,” explained Maj. Charles Amanquah, the Officer in Charge of Arctic Care and Chief of Logistics/S4 for the 330th Medical Brigade, Fort Sheridan, Illinois.
With approximately 250 service members from the Army Reserve, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Navy Reserve, and the U.S. Public Health Service, the Arctic Care IRT provided more than 6,000 no-cost healthcare procedures, including medical, nutrition, behavioral health, podiatry, physical therapy, dental, optometry, and veterinary services to the communities on Kodiak Island May 4-13.
Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) CEO Mike Pfeffer stated, “There are people in the community who just do not have access to services because of work schedules, because of economic disadvantage, so bringing IRT to Kodiak is a way for us to ensure the whole community receives the services they need but could otherwise not access.”
For many service members, it was the allure of Kodiak Island and Alaska as the annual training location that excited them for Arctic Care. But for those with IRT experience, they knew the opportunity and challenges they would face.
The primary challenge “is the supply…is getting the packaging correct, and making sure we have medical, dental and optometry packages that we send out to each site so that they are supplied everything they need for them to conduct care,” said Capt. Megan Kotsko, Arctic Care J3 Operations Officer and medical planner from the 330th Medical Brigade.
With established medical, optometry, dental and veterinary sites in the city of Kodiak, three other teams were dispersed throughout the island.
“We have teams we are kicking out to Akhiok, Ouzinkie, and Karluk, and then moving them throughout the week to various other locations throughout the island [Old Harbor, Port Lions], so that they can continue to jump and treat patients,” said Kotsko.
The two Chinooks and one Blackhawk piloted by the Alaska National Guard were actually successful in getting a team and medical packages out to Karluk this year, which has not happened in past missions due to weather. Unfortunately, high winds still impacted team movements between remote sites, and flight schedules were scrutinized and adjusted for safety.
With a fair market value of all services provided during Arctic Care totaling more than $500,000, Pfeffer continued, “At KANA, we appreciate the opportunity to bring service members to Kodiak because of, number one, the healthcare that is provided, but also the relationships that are established…community members recognize the value of Arctic Care and rally to support.”
And service members are passionate about helping the communities they partner with in an IRT.
What better way to increase unit readiness - at the individual and collective skills levels - than ‘deploy,’ forcing all staff sections to execute deployment tasks in a joint service environment, building relationships with community partners and working with or against Mother Nature, to the benefit of our own communities.
IRT is a Department of Defense (DoD) military training opportunity, exclusive to the United States and its territories, that delivers joint training opportunities to increase deployment readiness while providing key services (health care, construction, transportation, and cybersecurity) to communities. More information about the IRT program and process can be found at irt.defense.gov.