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NEWS | July 27, 2016

One of our own

By Sgt. Jennifer Shick 338th Medical Brigade

NORWICH, N.Y. - Service members from the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, active Navy, and Air National Guard came from across the nation, as far away as Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Texas to participate in a joint services mission in Norwich, N.Y., to provide world-class care to the people of Chenango County.  

The Greater Chenango Cares Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) event, which ran from July 15-24 at the Norwich High School, provides real-world training opportunities in a joint civil-military environment while allowing service members to provide no-cost medical, dental, optometry and veterinary care to a vastly underserved community.  For one service member, it was more than a training mission, it was a labor of love.

“I get chills just thinking about the fact that I was able to be a part of this, especially in uniform,” said Tech. Sgt. Lora “Lori” Olsen, a medical technician with the 174th Medical Group out of Syracuse, N.Y.  “It makes me very proud.”

Olsen has been living and working in the Chenango County area for the past 16 years.  Before joining the Air National Guard in 2006, she worked in Norwich as a job recruiter, helping her friends and neighbors find jobs in the area.  She has witnessed the needs of her community.  

“I’ve worked with these people, I have helped them find jobs, I have seen them stressed, I have talked to them, so here again I get to play another important role in making sure that they get the care they need,” said Olsen. “To see some of the folks that I saw back when I was a recruiter and being able to help them. It’s very gratifying.”

Chenango County is a community of roughly 50,000 inhabitants.  It is one of the most underserved communities in New York state, with roughly one doctor and dentist per 3,000 residents.  Many of them are either uninsured or underinsured.  Even if they have insurance, it is hard to get appointments or they have to travel quite a distance in order to receive treatment.

“Most of the businesses here are small so they can’t even afford the insurance for the people that work there, so regardless if you work or not, there is a struggle,” Olsen explained. “And it’s compounded by the fact that they have to travel 45 minutes to an hour to get to those kinds of specialties.”

When Olsen heard about the Greater Chenango Cares IRT event last year she wanted to join but due to training conflicts with the Air National Guard she was unable to attend.  When she found out that the IRT would be back for a second year she was determined to be here for her community.  

“This year I made a point of following it and following it and luckily enough somehow the Air Force was included, so when that email went around I raised my hand quite quickly,” said Olsen.  “I had already told my bosses ‘just so you know, they do this special mission and even if the Air Force is not included, I’m taking leave during this time because I want to be a part of it.’  Whether I was in a turquoise shirt or cammies, I was going to be there,” she said. “How could I say no?”

During the IRT event, Olsen has served in the medical section doing several different jobs from greeting community members that come for treatment, to taking vital signs and patient history.  She has even acted as a recruiter, calling people she new in the community to come down and receive no-cost medical care and to tell their friends to come as well.

“I kept checking the walk-in status and the appointments because if there was any space available, I would call people I knew and be like ‘get in here now,’” she stated.  “I also did Facebook little blogs saying ‘hey guys we still have appointments available’. I was trying to keep that flow going.”

The Greater Chenango Cares 2016 IRT has seen more than 1,800 people over the course of the 10-day event and provided care in excess of $900,000 to the local community.

Innovative Readiness Training events have been held across the nation, serving underserved communities since 1992, and are designed to support community organizations in realizing their visions for sustainable and thriving communities.  

“I just look forward to future missions,” stated Olsen. “I would love to see this consistently happen and I have to say that this is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.  It was an honor to be here.”