HARLEM, Mont. –
Military members partnered with Indian Health Services to augment medical providers at the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation during Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) Walking Shield, Aug 7-18, 2023.
The Fort Belknap community leaders requested medical providers to enhance their staff at the Fort Belknap Agency Health Center and the Hays Health Center, according to Maj. Cory Dailey, operations officer for the 95th Troop Command, Montana Army National Guard, and lead planner for the IRT mission.
Support came from the Montana Medical Detachment, Arizona Army National Guard and Medical Detachment, Army Reserve, and New Mexico Air National Guard in the form of veterinarians; pharmacy, radiology, and lab technicians; dentists; IT and admin support personnel; and medical providers to conduct wellness exams, sports physicals, and outpatient care.
Seventy-one patients received dental services and more than 400 were seen by military medical providers and nurses.
The team also partnered with Indian Health Services and Tribal Health Services to conduct six health fairs, providing a variety of services including height/weight, blood pressure, and blood glucose level checks; providing children’s immunizations; and connecting community members with resources for substance abuse, disease prevention, and STI prevention.
“Our main goal is to connect our Fort Belknap community members with the existing resources they have here,” said Tech Sgt. Benjamin Bernard, the health fair non-commissioned officer in charge and a respiratory care practitioner from the New Mexico Air National Guard’s 150th Medical Group.
More than 175 people visited the health fairs in Hays, Lodge Pole, and at the Agency.
Military medics joined the Fort Belknap Emergency Services ambulance team to provide 24-hour ride-along service for the fourth largest Indian reservation in Montana.
“For our troops, being this remote is a new experience for a lot of us …it’s a good simulation for the deployed environment...with the [limited] resources we have here so it’s a good experience for our younger medics,” continued Bernard.
Medics set up an aid station at the Hays Pow Wow on Aug. 11-13 and provided first aid and emergency services / ambulance point-of-care, evacuating an elder with chest pain and another person with a possible hip fracture after falling from a horse.
“This is real world training for us in a military setting, particularly in an austere setting. This actually is very valuable for us to be able to figure out how best to help a patient with the limited resources. In many ways, it allows the medics to do things that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to do because you don’t have as many resources,” stated Lt. Col. Scott Luke, an Army Reserve internal medicine physician with the 420th Medical Det.
Veterinary detachments from the Army Reserve partnered with a local non-profit organization, RezQ Dogs, to conduct a public health engagement focusing on spay/neuter, parasite control, wellness, and deworming.
“We couldn’t do spay/neuter clinics this year at all if it wasn’t for this [IRT], so this truly means everything. It is such an amazing resource,” said Anita Wilke, director of RezQ Dogs.
For Walking Shield, RezQ Dogs provided an anesthesia machine, an oxygen concentrator, surgical instruments, anesthesia drugs, parvo and distemper vaccines, cat vaccines, dewormer, flea/tick, antibiotics, ear cleaner, and ear/eye drops. Rabies vaccines were provided by the Fort Belknap health department.
“If you go into an active component or more sterile environment where everything [medical equipment-wise] is there and you don’t have to augment and improvise, I think we’re not preparing our troops for the battlefield,” said Lt. Col. Bradley Fields, an Army Reserve veterinarian from the 7350th Veterinary Det.
The veterinary team changed locations every other day, operating out of a gymnasium in Lodge Pole, the Bingo Hall near the Agency, and another site in Hays.
“In fact, we came here [the Lodge Pole gym] this morning, and we didn’t have power for about three hours, but we were about to power through it, and we changed our anesthetic protocol, we saw patients, and we just got after it. And I think building that resiliency, training troops, and letting them see that you can do your mission even if it’s not in the best facilities,” continued Fields.
In the 12-day mission, the team conducted eight equine wellness exams, 270 canine and feline spay/neuters and more than 500 wellness exams, which included a physical exam by a veterinarian, vaccines, and deworming. Total market value of veterinary services provided exceeded $218,000.
“I love working with the Army folks…they get done what needs to be done. I’m so thankful they are here, and I hope they come back,” said Wilke.