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    Reserve Soldiers serve Native Americans, experience culture

    Army Reserve Soldiers experience Medicine Rock with Cheyenne Indian chief

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Stanley Maszczak | Master Sgt. Derek Saxton, detachment sergeant for the 371st Minimal Care Detachment,...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. 1st Class Stanley Maszczak 

    807th Medical Command (Deployment Support)

    LAME DEER, Mont. - Army Reserve Soldiers from the 256th Combat Support Hospital in Twinsburg, Ohio, traveled west to a remote American Indian Reservation in Montana to augment medical staff at the Northern Cheyenne Community Health Center (NCCHC) in July and August. This was one of many missions conducted by 807th Medical Command Soldiers across the country participating in Innovative Readiness Training (IRT). IRT missions provide real-world training opportunities for service members and units to prepare them for their wartime missions while supporting the needs of America’s underserved communities.

    “We get more out of this, I think — treating actual patients. It’s different from what we’re used to on a battle assembly weekend,” said Maj. Robert Buckner, emergency medical physician with the 256th. “It’s more realistic here, complete with some limited capabilities like a deployment. I used to think I couldn’t practice medicine without a CT scanner, but I’ve been here for two weeks without one, and I’ve done it.”

    Mardell Nichols, director of nursing at the health center, said they requested the support specifically during this time frame when there would be a lot of back-to-school physicals to complete. Between the back-to-school physicals and other outpatient care, Soldiers saw more than 650 Native American children and adults.

    “We do tend to end up a little short-handed out here,” said Nichols. “Part of that is because of location — it’s hard to get doctors and nurses to relocate to such a rural area. It takes a certain kind of person — one that enjoys the outdoors and doesn’t mind being 100 miles from the nearest shopping center.”

    During the Soldiers’ time working on the Reservation, Native Americans honored Soldiers with invitations to participate in different cultural and sacred activities.

    “Our ceremonies are a big part of our life,” said Walter Whistling Elk, a Cherokee Native American born and raised on the reservation who now works at the NCCHC’s diabetes wellness center. “We find our identity and way of life in our ceremonies.”

    Whistling Elk arranged for some of the Soldiers to take part in one of their oldest ceremonies — a “sweat lodge,” or “sweat.”

    A prayer-centered ceremony, participants share who or what they would like to pray for as they enter the small, hot, sauna-like room. One senior Native American leads the group inside and controls the heat by adding water to the stones in the center of the room. The natives pray and sing in their Cherokee language during four different iterations, lasting approximately 20 minutes each.

    “It’s about cleansing, de-stressing,” Whistling Elk explained. “It’s an opportunity to pray, cry to God, pray for your family and significant ones in your life. It’s about being grateful.”

    The heat, though, did get to be too much for some of the participants.

    Spc. Andrew Bissell, a health care specialist and combat medic with the 371st Minimal Care Detachment, made it through the entire sweat experience.

    “Only me and Master Sgt. Saxton finished the whole sweat,” said Bissell. “They said if you made it through the whole thing, your prayers would be answered. But as people left, the Native Americans prayed that their prayers would still be answered.”

    Capt. Nina Brown, a nurse and Cleveland, native with the 256th, said the sweat experience reminded her of prayer with her own family in some ways.

    “I’m a Muslim, and prayer has always been a family thing for us,” said Brown. “It was similar here—very familial and community-oriented, and of course it was so wonderful that they invited and included us in the experience.”

    Some of the Soldiers also visited the nearby historical site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, commonly referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand.” A local Cherokee Indian chief, Phillip Whiteman, escorted Soldiers to Medicine Rock, where Sitting Bull received his vision of victory before the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Whiteman pointed out sacred drawings and writings all over the rock, emphasizing the Cherokee beliefs in the equality of all people and respect for all living things.

    “It’s my personal belief,” said Whiteman, “that if Sitting Bull and Custer had a meeting here like we’re having today — I doubt that there would have been much of a battle.”

    Soldiers involved in the IRT said they gained a lot from this mission on several levels.

    “We’re fortunate to be able to come here and do a great mission, while also spending off-duty time together and experiencing the culture and history of this area,” said Buckner. “We’re not just reading history books — we’re actually here, getting to know the people, seeing it firsthand.”

    For more information on the Defense Department’s Innovative Readiness Training program and how to apply, check out irt.defense.gov.



    Date Taken: 08.21.2014
    Date Posted: 09.10.2014 19:12
    Story ID: 141729
    Location: LAME DEER, MT, US 
    Hometown: CLEVELAND, OH, US

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