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Airmen from the 927th Air Refueling Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, partnered with service members from throughout the country to provide no-cost medical care to communities in North Central Arkansas, recently.

The Ozark Highlands 2017 Innovative Readiness Training team consisted of more than 140 service members all working side-by-side from the Air Force Reserve, Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve, active duty Navy and the Air National Guard.

U.S. Army Maj. Jesus Morales, dentist, 49th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, Puerto Rico and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jessica Hawk, dental assistant, 172d Airlift Wing, Jackson Mississippi, extract a decayed tooth from Raymond Kline. Kline participated in the no-cost medical services offered during the Ozark Highlands Innovated Readiness Training, Mountain Home, Arkansas, 5-12 June. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean)

U.S. Army Maj. Jesus Morales, dentist, 49th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, Puerto Rico and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jessica Hawk, dental assistant, 172d Airlift Wing, Jackson Mississippi, extract a decayed tooth from Raymond Kline. Kline participated in the no-cost medical services offered during the Ozark Highlands Innovated Readiness Training, Mountain Home, Arkansas, 5-12 June. (Image courtesy of U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean/Released)

“The IRT program is a unique way to provide real-world training to our medical personnel while helping our fellow Americans by providing them no-cost medical care,” said Air Force Maj. Lisa Haik, immunizations chief, 919th Special Operations Squadron, Duke Air Field, Florida, and Ozark Highlands IRT officer in charge. “The ability to build community relationships and showing them softer another side of the military is invaluable.”

Community members had multiple no-cost services available to them, including dental exams, cleanings, fillings and extractions. Additional no-cost services included general medical physicals and optometry exams, to include a pair of new glasses.

“I’m a single mom, my husband died eight years ago, and it’s a struggle raising and providing for my two daughters on one income,” said Trisha Diaz. “I think this is amazing, without this I wouldn’t have been able to afford glasses for myself and my kids, we would have to go without.”

With a Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity team on site, patients, such as the Diaz family that took advantage of the optometry services were able to receive a new pair of glasses in just 24 hours after their initial visit.

“We have everything we need to offer a fast turn-around. The patients choose a frame, the doctor supplies the prescription, and we knock them out,” said Navy Hospitalman 2nd Class Jeffrey James, optician, NOSTRA Naval and Weapons Station, Yorktown Virginia. “We’re not ‘Lens Crafters,’ but if we had to, we could have a pair ready in about an hour.”

As planned the community was not the only beneficiary of the IRT, the military members who volunteered received real-world experience while fulfilling their two-week annual training commitment

“To be able to help others in need is truly humbling, this was my first IRT and it won’t be my last,” said Army Capt. Deborah Spencer, nurse practitioner, 75th Combat Support Hospital, Tuscaloosa Alabama. “This was a memorable experience, one I won’t soon forget, my best […]to date.”

Balancing the training requirements and community needs is no easy task and required input from multiple parties. Planning involved organizations such as the Delta Regional Authority, the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, local churches and charities.

“During the year-long planning process, we had a team that evaluated every detail. What are the community needs? Are we able to effectively meet those needs? Are hardened facilities available or do we need tents? asked Air Force Master Sgt. James Finley, 927th Aeromedical Staging Squadron, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida and Ozark Highlands IRT Noncommissioned officer in charge. “We try to leave no stone unturned, the goal is to benefit both the military and the local community.”

After the military has packed up and moved out of town, an essential part of the process is ensuring community members that are still in need are aware of the resources available to them.

“We find that many of our folks that are in need, simply won’t ask for help because they are embarrassed, they are too proud,” said Tina Cole, Community and Economics Development Coordinator, Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District. “Because you [IRT Team] are not local and not from around here, they feel comfortable seeking help and it gets them in the door. Once in the door, we can talk with them, share our available services with them and most importantly let them know we care.”

Regardless of their financial means, the IRT team welcomed and treated all community members the same. No IDs were checked, no names were asked, just a short medical history was all that was required. The goal was to provide no-cost medical care for all.

“This is absolutely a blessing, my husband and I are both retired with good pensions but we still find ourselves struggling financially to take care of teeth and eyes,” said Gayla Terdening. “This is our third day back, the first day we had our teeth cleaned, then yesterday we had fillings and today we are getting a pair of new glasses. This is truly wonderful, it has saved John [husband] and I thousands of dollars. Thank you!”

The community members were not the only ones that felt the love. The gratitude from the community came in many forms, from simple thank you, to hand delivered thank you cards, homemade baked goods and community planed moral events at local attractions in the evening.

“This community has really embraced us,” Haik said. “They are taking great good care of us. Our service members are really enjoying themselves, thank you.”

During the duration of the Ozark Highlands IRT, medical personnel treated 3,990 patients and performed 8,961procedures with an estimated value of more than $700,000.

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