Humanitarian effort brings free healthcare to valley
August 23, 2011
LAREDO, Texas, Aug. 23, 2022 -- Some describe it as a humanitarian mission, others call it a disaster response exercise; however, the reality is that Operation Lone Star is both.
On Aug. 1, Operation Lone Star, or OLS, a 13-year, annual tradition in southern Texas, began its second week of providing health care services to people living near Laredo and Hebbronville, Texas.
The Texas State Guard, Texas Army and Air National Guard, local municipalities, Texas Department of State Health Services, and many other agencies, organizations, companies and volunteers collaborated for Operation Lone Star. This exercise not only brings free medical care to those in need along the Texas border, it simultaneously offers a real-world, emergency response exercise that allows first-response agencies and organizations to prepare for potential disasters.
More than 400 military members, 200 state and county employees and a myriad of volunteers united for the exercise, which started July 25 and ends Aug. 5. OLS provided a variety of medical services to include immunizations, sports physicals, blood pressure screenings, vision exams, pharmaceutical service, medical referrals, ministry services and preventative health education.
Health care providers and volunteers assisted with more than 36,000 health services to about 5,950 people during the first week of the exercise, which was held in several valley cities to include Brownsville, San Juan, Mission and Rio Grande City.
"We are providing free healthcare to the surrounding communities, those that are in underprivileged areas and those that do not have access on a day-to-day basis to affordable healthcare," said Capt. Daniel Sem, a second-year, Operation Lone Star veteran serving as the Texas Army National Guard officer in charge at the Laredo Operation Lone Star site. "I came away last year, as I trust I will come away this year, feeling like we did a job well done out here. We got a mission, a purpose and a point and made an impact on the community."
One of Sem's Soldiers, Spc. LaRee Lennox, 162nd Area Support Medical Company, a Texas Army National Guard unit out of San Antonio, said that since a lot of people here could not afford healthcare or insurance, this event helped provide much needed annual checkups and immunizations.
"I think it's awesome that we're helping," said Lennox. "Everybody should have a chance to be healthy and get checked out, so I think it's a good thing."
While providing medical care is a major focus of the event, another purpose is to prepare disaster response agencies and organizations in case an emergency situation, such as a hurricane landfall, emerges.
"The training that we get in running a non-disaster exercise like this prepares us for working together in disaster situations," said Col. Robert Morecook, information officer, Medical Brigade, Texas State Guard. "We get to know each other's capabilities. We get to know each other's personalities. We get to see where the strengths and the weaknesses are in an organization and under a situation where not so much is at risk."
This real-world training exercise is an imminent part of emergency preparedness for the Texas Army National Guard and other agencies that could potentially respond to hurricanes and other disasters.
"The training value from this is invaluable because when we have an emergency situation, a hurricane, a fire, a flood, whatever could happen, it's better to learn it here in a controlled environment, non-emergency environment, where we can come together and work out all the different hiccups and kinks in the system," said Sem.
Morecook described the purpose of the exercise as Texans helping Texans to become better prepared for emergencies and to help those in need with essential medical services.
"It's a tabletop exercise with real patients," he added.
Operation Lone Star health care services will be available through Aug. 5 at the Laredo Civic Center at 2400 San Bernardo Ave. and at Hebbronville High School at 210 Longhorn Lane in Hebbronville, Texas. Services will also be provided Aug. 3-4 at the Rio Bravo City Hall at 1701 Centeno Ln. in Rio Bravo, Texas.