By Brian GodetteAugust 3, 2015
FORT BELKNAP AGENCY, Mont. (July 30, 3015) -- U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers recently gave back to an American community in need, while gaining perspective on a culture that precedes the U.S. military.
This small contingent of 22 medical professionals conducted Innovative Readiness Training, or IRT, here, July 16-30, 2015, augmenting local hospital and clinics.
"Our mission here is to provide medical support to the [American Indians] here on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, as well as the Hayes and Lodge Pole community," said Lt. Col. Greg Venvertloh, commander, 7243rd Installation Medical Support Unit, Las Vegas.
The Soldiers provided a full array of medical services to include ambulatory, basic medical triage, physicals, full dental services, veterinary support, as well as optometry provided by an active duty Army unit.
"The basic benefit is the augmentation role. Our Soldiers get the opportunity to actually perform their medical duties," Venvertloh said.
"The secondary role is it gets the Army Reserve out into the community, and puts a different face on the Army as having a general role," Venvertloh said. "Individuals get to see exactly what the Army Reserve is all about, our different jobs in the reserve, and that we are citizens just like everyone else."
The IRT mission in Fort Belknap provided a training experience that could not be replicated during typical training weekends for many of the Soldiers.
"This is real life. We have our paramedics, who were able to go out and respond to several different calls these past two weeks with the local paramedic crew, and they were able to save a couple of lives, and they couldn't do that in a typical training environment," Venvertloh said. "This is fantastic, getting to use that training for a better good."
Training for the Soldiers, but real emergencies for the community, who only cared about receiving good care.
"Generally when citizens are having some type of emergency they are more concerned with getting their loved ones taken care of," said Sgt. Richard Mauser, paramedic with the 7243rd.
"When [emergency medical services] show up on scene, whether it's a firefighter uniform, a uniform from someone with a private service, or someone like me, it usually doesn't provoke any different kind of response. They're listening to 'I'm a paramedic, I'm here to help,'" said Mauser.
Helping the people of the community in a very tangible way elevated the sense of doing something hands-on and worthwhile for Mauser.
"What we are doing here, is what I would want us to be doing back at the unit," Mauser said.
The benefits of the training worked two ways, and the individuals on the Indian reservation who are part of a tribe, which holds true to a strong community bond, welcomed the Soldiers.
"One of the great ways the community integrated us was they invited us to participate in their pow-wow, and the pow-wow is a very traditional ceremony where they welcome and honor warriors," Venvertloh said.
The ceremony helped bridge the gap between the community and the Soldiers.
"We were so honored to participate because they brought us in and introduced us by name, in addition to tribal members who were there that participated in wars in the past," Venvertloh said.
"This is a culture that we need to preserve, to have respect for, and understand, because it's all a part of America," said Venvertloh.
The previous IRT missions on the reservation, and services provided by the Soldiers have left a favorable impression on the community, with many Soldiers being asked to come back more frequently.
"Dr. Cordova has been here four times and it's interesting to see that some of the patients actually request him, inquiring about when will he come back down," Venvertloh said.
"We've been doing this for a while, and we have gotten positive feedback from them and they are very much appreciative with our presence here," said Lt. Col. Shemrock Cordova, lead physician with the 7243rd.
Cordova recognized the need for the services being provided and made it a goal to see as many patients as possible in the time they were in the area.
"This is an under-served area, and they are very much in need of primary care providers," Cordova said.
Having a chance to help the individuals in the community proved twice as beneficial for Cordova, who like many Soldiers, appreciated the cultural learning aspect.
"We interact with them and join them in their festivities, learning more about their culture," Cordova said. "This training enhances cultural diversity, knowledge, and flexibility - it's a humbling experience," Cordova said.
While the training mission in Fort Belknap was not the first time U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers serviced the community, it was the first time veterinary services were provided.
"Our veterinary crew is another example," Venvertloh said. "In our training environment, we don't normally see animals and what they've been able to go ahead and do is be able to accomplish all different kinds of procedures, and immunizations, for free."
Providing veterinary care on the reservation was a time-saver for many residents.
"The closest veterinarian is an hour drive from the reservation and it could be quite expensive to visit a veterinarian, so to provide this service to the area is great," said Capt. Shereen Burton, 7243rd field service veterinarian.
The need for veterinary services was apparent, with many of the residents bringing in their family pets for a variety of services.
"It's very important to help in these areas here, where they don't even have a vet in the area, because a lot of problems can arise, things you don't see with the naked eye," said. Maj. Hakim Hamici, veterinarian with the 7226th Medical Support Unit, Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
"We do a lot of preventative care, and try to educate the people," Hamici said.
The education factor was one way the Soldiers could leave an impression on the community after the mission was over.
"There's a small rescue organization here called Rescue Dogs, and there is just one woman running the nonprofit organization," Burton said. "She has a lot on her plate, so not only are we able to help the animals on this reservation, but we are able to help the rescue which is located on this reservation."
By donating some supplies to the rescue organization, Burton said the U.S. Army Reserve legacy will still go on after the mission is over.
"Because we will be providing care to the rescue, which can provide care to the animals over the next several months to a year," Burton said.
There was a mutual feeling of admiration from the members of the tribe and the Soldiers who were there to serve.
"We are here to support them, whether it's something really big, really small, or in the middle, and they use us," said Sgt. Marcus Fulton, healthcare specialist with the 7243rd.
By the end, the U.S. Army Reserve and their active duty counterparts provided a service for a community that has deep roots in America, before there was even a U.S. Army, and fostered a mutual understanding of both worlds.
"It shows we care, and we really do," Fulton said. "I love to do humanitarian missions like this because they get to know who we are and we get to know the community."