CARUTHERSVILLE, Mo --
The Missouri Air National Guard is leading an effort to provide health care services in the Bootheel Region at no-direct cost to local residents. The effort is part of an innovative readiness training (IRT) exercise, known as Operation Healthy Delta (OHD), which runs from Sept. 13-21.
The operation is sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower & Reserve Affairs and is co-sponsored by the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), a federal-state partnership chartered by Congress in 2000 to help create jobs, build communities and improve lives through strategic investments in economic development in 252 counties and parishes across eight states, including southeastern Missouri.
"We're exceptionally proud of the work that's being done by our Guardsmen and everyone involved in the exercise," said Col. Matt Calhoun, vice commander of the Missouri ANG's 131st Bomb Wing, which has units split between Whiteman Air Force Base and St. Louis-based Jefferson Barracks.
"This is a shining example of the type of community partnerships that make the Air National Guard a great organization," Calhoun said. "We are able to support community needs while accomplishing the necessary training to ensure our Citizen-Airmen are always ready, always there to serve our state and nation."
OHD expects to serve between 5,000 and 8,000 patients and clinic sites in Charleston and Caruthersville.
“It is truly an honor to be here in the Bootheel,” said Air Force Maj. Jim Miller of Missouri’s 131st Bomb Wing Medical Group. “Operation Healthy Delta IRT gives military health professionals and support personnel the opportunity to provide medical, dental and optical care in an environment away from our home bases.
“We can train much as we would when responding to a natural disaster or military operation, while at the same time offering services to citizens who truly need our help,” said Miller, who is also the operation’s officer in charge.
To carry out the mission, the 131st is also partnered with their federal Air National Guard counterparts and units, the Navy Reserve, and the Air Force.
In total, about 200 service members are expected to participate from numerous units, including elements of the New Jersey ANG’s 108th Air Refueling Wing, the New York ANG’s 109th Airlift Wing, Navy Reserve Expeditionary Force One, and the Regular Air Force.
OHD marks the first time active duty Air Force dental personnel are joining the training exercise and working alongside their ANG and Navy Reserve counterparts.
“We are extremely proud to be the first to have active duty dentists and their support personnel during this operation,” Miller said. “It gives us an expanded training opportunity for the services to learn the capabilities of the other. Truly a win-win for all and we hope this will be duplicated at future IRTs.”
While opening day saw dreary skies and wet weather, it was not enough to dampen the spirits of the medical personnel or their patients, many of whom lined up early to ensure they were among the first to be seen when the clinics doors opened at 8 a.m.
No-cost medical screenings, dental exams and extractions, optical exams, and single-vision eyeglasses are available to residents of the area on a first-come, first-served basis at Charleston United Methodist Church in Charleston, and Eastwood Memorial United Methodist Church in Caruthersville.
Among the green camouflage uniforms, a sea of blue will be found at both clinics as Navy Reserve medical and support personnel, including ophthalmologists, dentists, medical doctors, and hospital corpsman work side by side with their Air counterparts.
“This joint mission allows our sailors and airmen to provide excellent health care to this great community, all while receiving invaluable training,” said Navy Reserve Lt. Olaniyu Alli-Balogun, the assistant officer in charge for Operation Healthy Delta IRT.
The numerous community partnerships are also critical in making this mission a success.
"The DRA has enjoyed a long partnership with DOD in bringing the IRT programs to our Delta community,” said Brittney Lindberg, IRT Project Manager and Military Liaison. “We appreciate all the hard work and professionalism of our military men and women and thank them for taking time out of their lives to bring quality care to our much deserving residents."
Collaboration of federal, state and local resources played a key role in supporting the IRT, said Joel Evans, president and CEO of the Delta Area Economic Opportunity Corporation, the community action agency serving the Missouri Bootheel.
“The DAEOC identified the two sites most in need - Caruthersville and Charleston - and worked with our federal liaison DRA to make application for this mission,” Evans said. “Two years later our doors opened this morning to lines of people seeking treatment.”
Evans said the community has poured out resources to make a good event great.
“The local churches have gone above and beyond to accommodate this event. Methodists and Catholics are working together in Caruthersville, and Baptists and Methodists are working together in Charleston. It's wonderful to see communities working as one."
The no-cost clinics will be open Sept. 13 to 16 and Sept. 18 to 21 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sept. 17 from noon to 4 p.m. Patients will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis with no military affiliation or veteran status required.