Wing optometrists do big business in Alabama

  • Published
  • By Capt. John Callahan
Three optometrists -- including two from the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Medical Group -- deployed to this small Alabama town May 1 to help host a free medical clinic for residents, of this area, which historically has been underserved by the health care community. During the 12-day deployment, the doctors will conduct vision screening, perform glaucoma and cataract testing, and write prescriptions for eyeglasses. Medical technicians on the deployment then take those prescriptions, cut lenses to fit a variety of attractive frames, and give them to the patients free of charge.

"I've been surprised by how much of the health problem such as glaucoma and cataracts have been taken care of by the patients and their doctors, but I am still amazed by the amount of people down here who do suffer from hypertension and diabetes -- even with knowing about the history of this area being a part of the 'diabetes belt'," said Col. Ron Kinchura, one of the 176th Medical Group's two optometrists and its commanding officer.

In all, twenty-five members of the medical group are here providing services. In addition to vision care, the military members are offering an array of medical, dental and mental health services. Ten members from other Alaska Air National Guard units are also here providing support, including public affairs, civil engineering and food services. Also at the clinic are thirty-five military personnel drawn from other units around the country.

It its first three days of operation, the clinic saw heavy traffic. Over that time frame the optometry section had seen 169 patients and fabricated 185 pairs of glasses.

"Everyone has expressed their gratitude for the help we've provided and have been exceedingly friendly, to include the local referral doctors who will do the follow-up exams on the patients," Kichura said.

"I don't have health insurance and I haven't seen an eye doctor since 2009," said area resident DeAnna Martin. "This has been the only way for me to get glasses. It's been great."