By SSgt Jessica Cauvel
179th Airlift Wing
HONOLULU - When one pictures Hawaii, most often a vision of a lush tropic vacation and sunbathing on the beaches comes to mind.
Travel an hour from the busy hub of Honolulu and those pristine beaches are replaced with ones occupied by tent cities. On each of these "tent city" beaches, roughly 1000 people live in makeshift tent shelters because they cannot afford to live in a home. Many of these homeless dwellers are military veterans and most aren't receiving adequate health care.
This is where the 179th Airlift Wing Medical Squadron stepped in to offer free health services this past April. In conjunction with the Hawaii State Department of Health and the Hawaii Air National Guard, 36 members of the 179th MDS offered free health services for two weeks to Hawaii's poor and homeless populations. This work was completed as part of Hawaii Innovative Readiness Training.
They were the first unit to deploy to Hawaii as part of the new program. Units from New Jersey and Texas were expected to follow in their footsteps later this year as part of a five-year initiative.
Hosted by the Hawaii Air National Guard 154th MDG, the members provided vision, dental, and physical screenings. They offered these screenings in public schools were the poor population attends and also on the beaches where the homeless had set up their tent cities. While they were in the schools, Col. Eric D. Ostrem, 179th MDS Commander, said they were treated almost as if they were celebrities. He said one child was overheard boosting to his friends he "got to touch one of them".
CM Sgt Bryan "Kelly" Ruff, 179th MDS non-commissioned officer in charge, added that many of the children showed up in white t-shirts when they knew the military members would be there in hopes of getting their shirts autographed by the members.
In between signing autographs, the 36 members screened more than 750 children each day. They also assisted the low income schools with screenings for student athletes.
Ruff shared an experience of diagnosing a medical issue in a homeless man on the beach; a diagnosis that normally requires an X-Ray in a hospital setting. Members of the 179th diagnosed the patient who was then taken to a nearby hospital where the diagnosis was confirmed and re received treatment.
It was these people and children who made the trip worthwhile, according to Ruff. He said the trip had its challenges, like any deployment, but it was a very satisfying experience.
Ostrem said the highlight for him was letting people see his members as doctors, nurses and medical technicians. Instead of only viewing military members as being wartime trained killers, Ostrem said this experience let the people of Hawaii see them as humans with real life jobs and a deep desire to help others.
Ruff said the people they assisted were so grateful for the help, that they gave thank you cards to the members before they left. Due to the tremendous success of this humanitarian mission, the 154th asked when the 179th would be able and willing to come down and help next year. Ostrem and Ruff both agreed based on the success of this year's trip they are looking forward to returning next year in order to support this vital and rewarding mission.