SIKESTON, Mo. — Citizen-Airmen from the 162nd Wing participated in a multi-service, interagency readiness training mission that offered no-cost medical, dental, and vision services to nearly 2,150 community members across southern Missouri and Illinois, June 15 through 21.
More than 200 servicemembers supported Operation Healthy Delta, one of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training missions, in collaboration with community partner Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation.
In total, servicemembers completed 11,548 procedures, totaling nearly $1.2 million in community value, and more than 26,861 training hours. Members from the Air National Guard; Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps Reserves; active Air Force, Navy, and Army components; and the U.S. Public Health Service, supported the Air National Guard-led mission in Sikeston and Caruthersville, Missouri, and Metropolis, Illinois.
Representation of various services and components was an intentional training element. According to the mission officer in charge, Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Maldonado, from the 162nd Medical Group. “The importance of working in a joint mission with joint services is because when you deploy, it’s a joint effort.”
Servicemembers echoed their commander’s statement, and explained the value of joint teamwork in contingency operations and learning from one another.
“When we deploy to these natural disasters and catastrophic events, it’s always interagency and multi-service,” said Maj. Erik Barnett, an optometrist from the 162nd Medical Group. “In the past, I’ve worked with Canadian military, international, and others, and it allows you to know not only how they function, but how that can integrate back to your home mission and your own unit.”
Another training design feature mobilized units to rural areas with limited amenities improving readiness and survivability in contingency environments
“As someone locally put it, we’re working in someone else’s kitchen. I have to figure out where everything is and how that flow works, and it allows us a real-world perspective on how to do that more efficiently,” said Burnett. “Simulating the deployment allows us to work within our means of what we have at the moment.”
For Operation Healthy Delta’s eyeglass fabrication team, heat conditions have created challenges when operating their equipment. According to Petty Officer 2nd Class Leticia Hernandez, from the Naval Ophthalmic Support Training Activity, “There’s no air conditioning, so we’re trying to fix it with fans, but we know we have to work under these conditions and still meet what is required of us.”
In spite of the adverse conditions, the NOSTRA team produced 731 glasses for patients, while readying them for future missions and contingencies.
“It’s definitely preparing us to work under stressful environments like temperature. We don’t have the commodities that we have in the lab,” said Hernandez, who is stationed at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, in Yorktown, Virginia. “It is preparing us for moments like these when we aren’t expecting certain thing to happen. We have to be on our feet and think of solutions, and figure out what’s the problem and fix it.”
While the mission was primarily medical-oriented, Maldonado said that the operation employed various support personnel, to include specialists from food services, personnel, logistics, transportation, and even communications.
“It’s a joint effort. It doesn’t take just one person leading,” said Maldonado. “It takes every person assigned to each site to make sure the mission’s complete.”
Beyond collaborating with different military branches, mission leadership also relied on the support of partners within the region. Specifically, the exercise’s community partner, DAEOC, offered a variety of critical assistance, to include coordinating host sites, announcing services within the community, and filling in supply gaps.
“Our community partner has a huge involvement with this,” said Maldonado. “It takes a whole variety of people who are here in order for this mission to happen, and they have bent over backwards to help make sure the mission is complete.”
In additional preparing military members, team members also recognized how the mission readied their families for potential operations in the future.
“These missions really allow them to see what it’s like, for dad to be gone and to be in uniform and to serve. Especially when I can go home and tell them these are the things I got to do,” said Burnett. “They can see the value, and next time they can appreciate it and support me along the way.
For some members, the IRT mission has been so fulfilling that they’ve volunteered for repeat missions. According to Army Sgt. John Stewart, 166th Medical Detachment, 56th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, Fort Lewis-McCord, Washington, Operation Healthy Delta is his twelfth mission, and he is grateful for the opportunity to serve.
“It gives you the opportunity to see your work rather than being behind the scenes and just making glasses,” said Stewart. “You definitely get to see your patients receive the glasses—people who haven’t probably seen in twenty years in some locations, now getting to see their grandchildren for the first time. So it’s pretty rewarding.”