171st Medical Group Members Support Tropic Care
By Airman Kyle Brooks
/ Published October 30, 2016
CORAOPOLIS, Pa. -- The 171st Air Refueling Wing Medical Group participated in the Tropic Care humanitarian mission June 20-29 on the island of Kaua`i, Hawaii. Tropic Care was a joint task force mission that provided free medical, dental and optometry care to the communities of the island.
A team of 17 members that included a dentist, dental technicians, dental assistants, medics, optometry technicians a nurse and providers from the 171 MDG participated in the mission.
Some medical services provided included medical screenings, eye exams, glasses, school and sports physicals and patient education. Dental services such as tooth extractions and fillings were offered. Approximately 18,000 patients were treated in the Tropic Care mission and more than 2,800 pairs of free glasses were made for those in need.
The island of Kaua`i is a more rural area of Hawaii and availability to medical care is not as easy to come by in comparison with other parts of Hawaii. All under-served and homeless residents were able to receive treatment free of cost.
"Everyone was overwhelmingly excited," said Capt. Lindsay Kovach, a Physician Assistant and the officer in charge of the 171 MDG.
An experience like this really strengthens the bonds in the Medical Group. You're not just working and traveling with one another, you're providing care for patients together, said Kovach.
The lack of permanent facility and equipment made teamwork and communication crucial. In some cases, patients did not speak English, so providers had to translate for one another to accomplish the mission and give care.
In addition to providing treatment to the community, the mission offered valuable training for traditional Air National Guard members.
The trip helped us train for a real world mission, 300 people were dropped off in a location not set up for medical care and had to be operational in one day, said Senior Airman Lauren Bates, a Dental Technician with the 171 MDG.
"The main goal was to see as many people as we could," said Bates.
The patients expressed an unreal level of appreciation for the treatment and the pride they take in their island. It was a very humbling experience, said Bates.
Medical personnel worked within three fixed and two mobile sites. Sites were mixed with Air Force and Navy service members.
"Our mission was to provide that higher quality level of service that we try to build and try to carry out at home," said Staff Sgt. Chase Smith, an Aerospace Technician with the 147th Air Refueling Squadron.
Members of 171 MDG used teambuilding and a family atmosphere to work with other medical service members in serving the Kaua`i patient population, said Smith.
The trip offered some valuable experience for Airmen who could deploy within the group in the future. The geographical location offered exposure to different medical treatments needed that Airmen would not see regularly at their home station.
The 171 Medical Group's humanitarian missions support domestic and international relations through teambuilding and cohesion.
We plan to continue building relationships and training our traditional National Guard Airmen the best we can, said Kovach.
The next humanitarian mission is scheduled for Louisiana in the summer of 2017. The target communities will include St. John, Tangipahoa and Assumption.