Joint force wraps up medical mission to rural Alabama

HAYNEVILLE, Ala. -- HAYNEVILLE, Ala. -- The 70 service members -- half members of the Alaska Air National Guard, and another 35 drawn from a variety of units across the country -- who deployed to this tiny, rural town to host a free medical clinic wrapped up their mission today and began preparing to head home.

Exact numbers were still being tallied, but unofficial numbers indicate that in just seven and a half days, more than 1,000 residents of this historically underserved area had signed up for the free services. Most days, military personnel arriving in the morning were greeted by a line of people -- many with no health insurance -- waiting to enter the clinic.

"It was amazing the number of patients the staff members here were able to care for," said Lt. Col. Sharolyn Lange, chief nurse for the 176th Medical Group and the mission commander. "Once the word got out in the community, the response was just overwhelming. Our success in seeing and treating so many is really a testament to the professionalism of our joint-force partners -- the Army, Navy and Marines; whether active-duty, Guard or Reserve. I can't say enough about the quality of their work."

The deployers numbered 70 in all. Half were from the Alaska Air National Guard -- 25 from its 176th Medical Group, and 10 support personnel from other Alaska Air National Guard units. In Hayneville, the Air Guard members joined forces with 35 more service members drawn from a variety of military units around the country. The group deployed here May 1 as part of a joint-services mission organized by the Department of Defense's Innovative Readiness Training program.

The IRT program is run by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. It brings Guard and Reserve units together from around the country to sharpen their skills in real-world conditions.

For this mission -- officially titled TOWN OF HAYNEVILLE 2011 -- the 70 deployers opened a temporary, free clinic for area residents. Using Haynesville's small town hall as a base of operations, clinic personnel offered a wide range of services:

(Numbers are patients who used services through end of day yesterday, May 9. These numbers are not final, as the clinic experienced extremely heavy traffic today.)

* Three optometrists and their support staff conducted thorough eye exams and wrote prescriptions. A small team of Navy specialists then took the prescriptions and crafted eyeglasses, which were given out at no charge. (410)
* Three dentists and their staff members performed exams, cleanings, fillings and extractions. (272)
* A nutritionist offered nutrition and dietary consultations (23)
* A doctor, two physician's assistants and a nurse practitioner offered general medical services and consultation, and visited a local school to do free sports physicals for the children. (468)
* A Navy pharmaceutical team filled prescriptions. (356)
* A Navy psychiatrist offered mental health counseling. (11)

And the deployers didn't stop there.

* Four members of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Civil Engineer Squadron and six members of the Marines' 6 Engineering Support Battalion completed a variety of upgrade projects around town. They addressed several long-standing sewage problems, fixed up a dilapidated day-care and community center, and built a new patio canopy for the town's mental health clinic.
* Bioenvironmental specialists checked the city's water supply and wastewater treatment facilities.
* Public health technicians reviewed and advised on local food-handling processes.
* In addition to supplying religious support, a Navy chaplain's team undertook several community outreach efforts.

"I cannot express how much this has meant to the people here," said Hayneville Mayor Helenor Bell. "It's meant so much, literally, to the quality of life here. People who had been unable to afford eyeglasses can now see! The civil engineers alone accomplished what would have taken our little shop here probably three months. We are so, so thankful."
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