By Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran , 145th Public Affairs
/ Published April 01, 2014
ABBEVILLE, LA -- More than 120 Air National Guard and Navy Reservists gathered in Louisiana to participate in a training mission that provided medical, dental and optometry care to over 3,000 residents in and around Abbeville, La.
For 10 straight days, Air National Guard and Navy Reserve personnel from more than a dozen different units across the United States participated in Cajun Care 2014, a Department of Defense-sponsored Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) mission. IRT is designed to provide U.S. military professionals valuable training as well as provide support to underserved communities.
Airmen from the North Carolina Air National Guard play a vital role in the coordination, planning and execution of the IRT program. Air National Guard Lt. Col. Jamie Ruffing, Cajun Care mission commander, spoke highly of the NCANG team. "The sheer magnitude of getting an operation such as this off the ground is staggering," she said, "But our supply and logistics team has answered every call, and enabled the providers to serve this community."
Senior Master Sgt. Chris Amburn is the 145th Airlift Wing's Base Contracting Officer.
Amburn was approached three years ago by Lt. Col. Hall, the IRT Program Manager at that time, who asked SMSgt Amburn to manage contracts for the entire program.
Amburn, in conjunction with Master Sgt. Bryant Alexander, Contract Specialist and Tony Cherry, Procurement Technician, 145th Contracting office, writes and executes supply and service contracts for all services; ANG, Air Force Reserve, Marines, Navy, and ARMY Guard. Amburn manages the logistics portion as well for the entire program including medical and civil engineering projects. In the last year alone, he has managed 2.6 Million dollars in contracts and purchases for the IRT program, $89,000 for Cajun Care, all as a side duty.
Over the course of three years, Amburn has grown the program from one to many. It has encompassed and touched all areas of the NCANG including Aerial Port, Finance, Maintenance, Civil Engineers, Flight Operations, Medical and Public Affairs. By incorporating many units base wide, NCANG has not only impacted and inspired the lives of those here locally at the 145th AW but also impacted the lives of many nationwide who have received support through the IRT mission.
"Working with Airman, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers in a very joint environment is perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences I have had the privilege to be part of," Amburn said. He went on to say "It is very gratifying to be part of a one team-one fight mission that provides training for our troops while helping those who are underserved as well."
While the contracting office at the NCANG heads up logistics, Capt. Michael Cain, 145th Civil Engineer Squadron, is the Air National Guard IRT Project Manager for all ANG Lead IRT Engineering Missions. As project manager, it is Cain's responsibility to help ensure that all participating units are meeting their training objectives, and as a product, providing the IRT applicant with quality Military Engineer Workmanship.
1st Lt. Rebecca Roodhouse-Hintz, 156th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, is now serving as IRT ANG Program Manager and works directly for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Roodhouse-Hintz is proactive, combat-ready, and has proven to be adaptable. She has taken the lead to get the ANG actively involved with a variety of IRT missions, providing a dual benefit for community and Airmen training. Cain and Hintz work alongside of SMSgt Amburn all having a direct impact on the program and report to OASD on various levels.
Once logistics for Cajun Care were completed, the training continued as the 145th AW got equipment and supplies ready to deploy. On February 20, 2014, 145th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Air Transportation Specialist, Tech. Sgt. Phillip Harrell and Staff Sgt. Jesse Huneycutt, use a K-Loader and 10k All Terrain forklift to load five aircraft pallets full of dental equipment and medical supplies onboard a C-130 Hercules aircraft bound for Louisiana. Master Sgt. Pennie Brawley, a loadmaster assigned to the 156th Airlift Squadron, helped position and secure the pallets as they were placed in the cargo area. "All this medical equipment and supplies makes me feel like I'm back in Afghanistan," Brawley said. "Except," she added "This time we are not getting shot at!"
Arriving in Louisiana, medical personnel started scheduling their days to provide multiple services including nursing evaluations, blood pressure screenings and diet and health consultations. Dental services, including assessments and extractions were scheduled as well. Eye exams and spectacle manufacturing were offered and a pharmacy dispensing prescriptions was set and in place for patients that had been assessed by medical teams.
As with all IRT deployments, Cajun Care 2014 was implemented as an opportunity to increase the quality of life for fellow Americans while challenging deployment skills and operational readiness of each military member.
For that reason, Cajun Care team members set up cots in the Louisiana Army National Guard Armory and the Abbeville VFW emulating field conditions to better prepare for deployment to an austere environment. They ate breakfast and dinner in the armory and lunch at the work site. For those who did venture out, they had to have a Wingman and adhere to the enforced curfew of "lights out at 2200".
As commander of Cajun Care, Lt. Col. Ruffing stated that although the primary mission of IRT is ensuring U.S. military medical professionals are able to rapidly establish a functional medical facility, the mission's dividends to a community cannot be understated.
At the end of the first day, 102 optical exams were performed, 78 medical exams were given, dentist performed over 90 dental procedures and more than 60 hours of patient health training was accomplished.
Lt. Col. Michael Smith, dental physician assigned to the 145th Medical Group, kept extremely busy extracting 177 decayed teeth in just the first three days. "Seeing the relief on a patient's face is always rewarding" Smith said then added, "You're doing great buddy!" encouraging a patient who was having 12 teeth extracted.
Members of the Cajun Care team worked in a joint environment serving with sister services learning another service's culture. "Despite the fact that we all wear different uniforms," Smith stated, "We speak the same language when it comes to practicing medicine. We all took the same oath to serve our community as medical professionals and to serve our country as military servicemen and women."
IRT is an amazing program. It is Americans helping Americans. The focus is not international, but domestic. It's symbiotic in nature, everyone wins. The troops train to improve their skillset while helping those in need. We return with sharp minds, improved skill sets, and most importantly full hearts. It's just a matter of spreading the word and involving as many people as possible. Once the troops are involved, they leave forever inspired and most importantly come back for more.... IRT is addictive in nature and we're just getting warmed up.....we've barely scratched the surface.