By Chief Master Sgt. Gonda MoncadaJuly 31, 2008
CAMP MABRY, Texas (Army News Service, July 31, 2008) - Texas National Guard troops had to dodge flooded streets, downed power lines and trees after Hurricane Dolly to begin Operation Lone Star, but they are in place and the medical and dental clinics are open to Rio Grande Valley residents for the next two weeks.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Operation Lone Star, which provided health care to more than 13,000 South Texas residents in just two weeks last year. Services vary from school immunizations to cholesterol and diabetic screening and dental procedures.
About 300 Texas National Guard personnel, along with the Department of State Health Services and numerous volunteers, provide care to medically underserved areas in the Rio Grande Valley while conducting a realistic medical preparedness exercise incorporating local, state and federal partners.
Operation Lone Star's mission is to help improve the health of border residents, conduct Medical Innovative Readiness Training, known as MIRT, and strengthen community relations and interagency cooperation.
One of the mission's tenants is to conduct a health community response to a natural or man-made disaster using the National Incident Management System.
During the first week of the operation, the MIRT teams operate four clinics in middle and high schools in the Valley. They then move the entire operation to Rio Grande City, Zapata, Hebbronville and Laredo at the end of the week.
The operation has established roots in the communities and is supported by a telethon allowing residents to ask questions on-air about the clinics' services and locations. Local merchants also do their part by posting flyers about the operation in English and Spanish.
On the first day of operations, a line of patients stretches around the block. Local residents depend on the services provided by the Texas National Guard personnel and their DSHS counterparts.
The Texas National Guard medical personnel are credentialed professionals, who do not skimp or cut corners on the services they provide. If they cannot provide the care needed, they consult with DSHS personnel to ensure that a patient receives follow-up care.
The region has a predominance of diabetics, and the medical personnel carefully screen and refer patients to local physicians, who continue the care initiated by Operation Lone Star. Unfortunately, because of their circumstances, some people will see a doctor or dentist only once a year - during Operation Lone Star. During their visit, residents are encouraged to seek regular medical attention.
Support personnel ensure that each MIRT site is stocked and equipped, and that the pharmacies have all the necessary back-to-school immunizations and medications for anyone who walks through the doors.
Air Force Col. Joel Henness of the 147th Reconnaissance Wing in Houston is this year's task force commander. He was the vice commander last year. Many of the 300 Operation Lone Star personnel volunteer year after year, not only because it is such a rewarding mission, but also to gain the medical expertise necessary to do their jobs overseas.
Invaluable connections with local, state and federal partners have been forged over the past 10 years, Guard officials said, adding that because of Operation Lone Star, the Texas National Guard is better able to provide support to civilian authorities during a disaster, whether natural or man-made.
(Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada serves with the Texas National Guard.)