Va. Airmen participate in joint training mission providing free health care to West Tennessee

Air Force Maj. Tiffany Harper, a dentist with the 192nd Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. and Air Force Staff Sgt. Rebecca Bingham, a medical service technician, discuss dental procedures with Wayne Alexander, June 11, 2013 at ‘Hope of Martin’ Innovative Readiness Training held at Martin Middle School in Martin, Tenn. (Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Meghan Skrepenski, Virginia Air National Guard Public Affairs)

Air Force Maj. Tiffany Harper, a dentist with the 192nd Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. and Air Force Staff Sgt. Rebecca Bingham, a medical service technician, discuss dental procedures with Wayne Alexander, June 11, 2013 at ‘Hope of Martin’ Innovative Readiness Training held at Martin Middle School in Martin, Tenn. (Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Meghan Skrepenski, Virginia Air National Guard Public Affairs)

MARTIN, Tenn. — Approximately 130 service members from the Air National Guard, Army, Navy, and Navy Reserve have joined together to complete the “Hope of Martin” Innovative Readiness Training project July 8-19, 2013 in Martin, Tenn. The Virginia Air National Guard provided a dentist and a medical services technician to serve the West Tenn. residents who attended the free clinic, along with a public affairs team to support the mission.

The military medical specialists gathered from more than 29 states from across the country in support of this critical humanitarian mission, providing care for more than 2,000 patients, providing more than 4,000 procedures with an estimated value of $300,000 in medical services during the first week of the two week mission.

The specialists are providing care for residents from West Tenn. communities, where some patients seeking care traveled more than one hundred miles and waited hours to be seen and treated. The IRT provided medical care including physical exams, mental health exams, and dental and eye exams. Patients also have access to an occupational therapist, dietician and pharmacy services. Vision care includes screenings and free glasses created on site in the Mobile Optical Lab, where more than 500 pair of glasses were made in the first week. Information about additional medical resources and health care facilities are also provided on site.

This is the second IRT project for both Maj. Tiffany Harper, a dentist assigned to the 192nd Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., and Staff Sgt. Rebecca Bingham, a medical service technician with the 192nd Fighter Wing. Their first IRT project was Tropic Care 2012 in Hawaii, where the environment proved challenging with no running water and a clinic housed in tents.

“The patient’s needs and patient’s care (in Hawaii) were identical with what is required here in Tennessee, but we have a better facility here to protect us from the weather,” said Harper. “It is more comfortable for both the patients and the providers.”

One challenge faced during “Hope of Martin” IRT was the combination of service members from different areas and working with different equipment in an area they had to set up to meet the needs of the mission, said Harper. When the service members arrived at Martin Middle School, they did not know what type of environment to expect. They had to open the packing containers and determine what type of equipment they had available.

“Everyone I have come in contact with has just gone above and beyond,” said Harper. “Senior Airman 1st Class Danielle Morin, a dental technician with the 105th Airlift Wing, Newberg, N.Y., even borrowed a car from another person at the IRT, and drove around the area to local clinics picking up extra supplies that the clinic needed,” said Harper.

They had to make due with the equipment they had on hand and weren’t always able to complete the treatments as they would have liked. The service members had to communicate with each other how to best meet the needs of the mission, while determining how they could be the most functional in their positions and how to contribute their unique skill-set to the mission, said Harper.

“One patient who came in said she hadn’t smiled in more than 2 years because she was so embarrassed about her teeth,” said Harper. “When she left she was smiling and extremely grateful.”

Up to 60 people could be seen daily in the mobile dental clinic at “Hope of Martin” IRT with each dentist seeing 10 to 12 patients per day. The high cost of preventative dental care is what has deterred many of the patients from seeking dental service in the community.

“We are always trying to accommodate as many people as possible but we can’t realistically help everyone,” said Bingham. “Sometimes you have to turn people away no matter how far they have traveled, and that is really hard.”

Harper enjoys interacting with the patients at “Hope of Martin” IRT; she enjoys helping them feel better about their oral health, providing them service and caring for them.

“This is the best visit I have ever had to a dentist,” said Wayne Alexander, a Martin resident, remarking on his visit with Harper.

“I’m a public health dentist at heart, I want to position myself in an environment where I can help elevate oral health,” said Harper. “One patient I saw was in their 30’s and hadn’t had a cleaning since they were seven years old,” said Harper.

“We have really all joined together, with everyone working hard and the majority of the people treated have been super grateful to have us provide the care they may not otherwise have access to,” said Bingham.

“If military members hear about an IRT that needs help, they should volunteer,” said Bingham. There is a great need for volunteers and people don’t know how much the people in their community or even their neighbors might need their help, said Bingham.

IRT provides real world training opportunities for our service members and units to prepare them for their wartime missions while supporting the needs of America’s underserved communities.

“After more than a decade of war, the Guard and the Reserve are at their highest level of readiness they have been at in generations. IRT projects keep them trained and ready,” said Air Force Col. Damon S. Feltman, deputy director of training program management for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.