Maintenance window scheduled to begin at February 14th 2200 est. until 0400 est. February 15th


Forgot Password?

    Or login with Facebook

    IRT Bootheel: The humanitarian mission at home

    IRT Bootheel

    Photo By Brian Godette | Newly-fabricated glasses await pickup from patients at Sikeston Junior High School in...... read more read more



    Story by Brian Godette 

    U.S. Army Reserve Command

    SIKESTON, Mo. – One does not have to be across the vast oceans, in a foreign land, to feel the warm embrace of a U.S. military humanitarian mission that reaches the local population.

    U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers, U.S. Navy Reserve Sailors and active duty components from both services, from all across the country came together for Innovative Readiness Training Bootheel, a humanitarian mission servicing the communities of Sikeston, Dexter, and Malden, Missouri, July 12-24.

    “This is a medical health service support mission,” said Lt. Col. Larry J. Luedeman, IRT Bootheel officer in charge, and commanding officer, 7212th Medical Support Unit, Rochester, Minnesota.

    “What it does is enable us to come in and do our training, in a real-world environment where we are providing health service to the community, the people who live here, with dental, medical and optometry,” Luedeman said.

    In order to have the military presence in each community, required planning and coordination with local officials within the community, who were eager to help assist with the mission, was needed.

    “These communities have all been so very welcoming,” Luedeman said.

    Much of the coordination with the community can be attributed to the help of the U.S. Army Reserve 431st Civil Affairs Battalion, who visited each community to meet with different officials and citizens.

    “The biggest thing we do is coordinate with the local population, whether that be the school, or the local community businesses, to get the word out for the IRT mission,” said Sgt. 1st Class Larry Sellers, noncommissioned officer in charge, Civil affairs Team, 431st Civil Affairs Battalion, Little Rock, Arkansas.

    As the word started to spread around the local towns in Missouri the military was coming to provide free medical services, Soldiers and Sailors prepped their respective treatment sites.

    In Sikeston, mixed teams of Soldiers and sailors operated out of Sikeston Junior High School. In Dexter, the location was the Dexter Light of Hope Church, and in Malden, it was Malden High School. All locations were chosen in order to provide care for the population where it was needed most.

    “This is beautiful because we get to come here and help Americans in America, and also train our Soldiers, with real-world people, who have real-world problems,” Sellers said.

    Each site had a triage space set up, where medics/corpsmen, and nurses treated patients, as well as an optometry space to conduct eye screenings, and dental trailers where Army and Navy dentists and technicians provided oral care.

    The dental site at Sikeston saw a steady stream of patients coming in with a variety of issues.

    “At this dental facility we are doing fillings, cleanings and extractions. We are providing this service for the people of Missouri,” said U.S. Navy Reserve Cmdr. Jonathon McIntosh, dentist with Detachment J, Expeditionary Medical Facility Dallas.

    “These people are coming in with infections, they are coming in with fractured teeth that they've had for several years, so we're getting the opportunity to do a little more extensive work,” McIntosh said.

    The amount of patients and the services provided was a far cry from the experience of a military deployment overseas.

    “In a combat zone, you're mainly just doing whatever it takes to keep the guys in combat, and on patrol, trying to keep everyone in a comfortable situation so they can do their jobs,” McIntosh said. “Here, is a different type situation."

    “These people here, because of the economy and their financial status, they've let things go, and because they've let things go we have the opportunity to do a little more extensive work to take them from a sensitive/painful area to a non-sensitive/non-painful area,” McIntosh said.

    Giving back to the people who support them, was a major motivator for many of the military personnel involved.

    “By us giving this back to the American population, we've really given them a service, and with it being the military, we really feel like we've given our taxpayers a service they deserve,” McIntosh said.

    The service giving back to the community wasn't the only benefit for the Soldiers and sailors.

    “The benefit here is forging these relationships in these communities, coming in, meeting people that live here, and seeing the appreciation,” Luedeman said.

    What the patients saw were military uniforms of different designs and colors, working together as one, helping them with their medical needs.

    “Uniform color makes no difference here, we're all working together as a team,” said Master Sgt. David Long, 7240th Installation Medical Support Unit, Sikeston site NCOIC.

    The cohesiveness between the two forces is similar to what the military has seen in recent years and what some feel will be a normal trend.

    “Here at Sikeston, the force integration has been phenomenal. We are coming together and working together very well,” said Lt. Suleika Stray, Sikeston site OIC, EMF Great Lakes.

    “I think more and more, working together with the different branches of service is the way of the future,” Luedeman said.

    Each site opened their doors around 8 a.m. to receive patients, who formed lines down the hall to sign in and be seen. Many coming back several times in the two-week span during IRT Bootheel.

    “I came here last week to check my leg out, and I found out I had torn ligaments in my leg,” said James Caldwell, Malden resident. “They gave me pain medicine and everything, and it didn't cost me anything. It's a good thing, they are helping people out that need it.”

    The Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity was also on ground, fabricating glasses on site, for all individuals who needed it.

    “My glasses broke about three weeks ago, and now I came back here this week to get new glasses at no cost. It's a great thing they are doing,” Caldwell said.

    While the services being rendered were not billed to the patients, civil affairs kept track of the impact the services had on the community from an economic standpoint.

    “We've done almost 500 vision screenings, 500 dental, and nearly 200 medical services individually, which equates to almost $270,000 worth of services provided free to the local population,” said Sellers. “That's just at this site (Malden), so the total number will be much greater, but you can see the impact it has on a small community.”

    Sellers said it’s the basic vision and dental care that is being provided that is having the biggest impact on the communities.

    “Simple things like glasses, and getting teeth pulled, those are things that aren't readily available to most people. If you have a medical issue, there are a lot of services available for that, but dental and vision, are probably the upper most to have the least government assistance,” Sellers said.

    Over in Dexter, the community members praised the military, located at the Light of Hope Church.

    “The Army being here, providing medical, optometry and dental services – we are a very impoverished neighborhood area here, and we as a church do a lot of community outreach, helping individuals with their needs – services that are so needed in an impoverished neighborhood,” said Kevin De Arman, minister, Light of Hope Church.

    Soldiers and Sailors left a favorable impression with the civilians at Dexter.

    “The military has made a huge impact with the access to care for people in this area,” De Arman said. “Every individual Soldier and Sailor that I have met has been outstanding, eager to help the civilian population when they come in, and have been kind and friendly, and really treated them top notch.”

    De Arman, a former service member, knows all too well the trappings of military service. But for him and the residents of Dexter, this was a different military experience.

    “I know having had been in the Marine Corps, you get used to the hurry up and wait mentality when you're in the service, and I haven't seen any of that. It's been great,” De Arman said.

    The military personnel in Dexter felt the community’s admiration.

    “I definitely feel like a lot of people are appreciative for the services we are providing them, because a lot of times, they can't afford the treatment we are giving them,” said Capt. Faith Thompson, dentist with the 7210th Medical Support Unit.

    “For myself, I just like to give my skills to people. It's not something we can do everyday in the civilian workforce,” Thompson said.

    Even for those Reserve Soldiers like Capt. Albert Ndzengue, who is originally from Cameroon, in West Africa, and joined the Army Reserve as a physician, the chance to work with the community in Missouri was a pleasant surprise.

    “I thought at first we were going to be based out of a military hospital, providing care to military family members of veterans or veterans coming back from combat, but then we got here and we were in a community, which is a good thing,” said Ndzengue, physician with the 7212th MSU and a practicing civilian physician.

    Ndzengue was concerned with the stories he heard from the patients he saw in regards to their health care.

    “I've noticed a discrepancy in the health care. People with a certain level of living standards who have a genuine need of health care that they cannot afford, so coming here was good thing, providing this care, giving these people some hope and showing them that despite not having insurance, people were thinking about them,” Ndzengue said.

    “I now see the need, and the gravity of the program, of people not having insurance, having a very low income or no income at all, and having to choose between having the bare minimum to live or have insurance, and this is something that has to be addressed,” Ndzengue said.

    Both Soldiers and community residents learned about each other and the possibilities the military can provide without leaving the country.

    “This mission shows that the military is not only about defending the boundaries of the country, defending the ideology of the country, it's also about caring for the citizens of the country,” Ndzengue said. “I’m proud to know that we can be called and show our humanitarian side, inland.”

    When the two week training came to a close, an intangible, caring embrace, was left not only on the residents of the Missouri communities, but on those who provided the humanitarian assistance.

    “This experience has been invaluable,” Stray said. “I can't begin to tell you how many heart-felt stories people have shared. How do you put a value, dollar sign, or quantity on a Soldier holding an elderly woman's hand and comforting her or a value on shear kindness?”



    Date Taken: 07.24.2015
    Date Posted: 07.30.2015 11:28
    Story ID: 171493
    Location: SIKESTON, MO, US 
    Hometown: DEXTER, MO, US
    Hometown: MALDEN, MO, US

    Web Views: 247
    Downloads: 0
    Podcast Hits: 0