By Spc. Justin SnyderAugust 1, 2018
LEECH LAKE INDIAN RESERVATION, Minn. - Donned in a Vietnam veteran hat, Terry Smith walked into the school gymnasium in Bena, Minnesota, looking for a dentist. He heard military doctors were set up and he could get his teeth looked at for free.
A partnership between the U.S. Army Reserve, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Cass Lake Indian Health Service brought a military medical unit to Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School from July 10-19, to support an Innovative Readiness Training mission, providing various medical services to local residents, including veterans like him.
Approximately 40 medical professionals including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, dentists, dentists, dental technicians and combat medics from 7218th Medical Support Unit out of Louisville, Kentucky were made available for services at the clinic being held at the school.
Smith said he also came to the previous IRT event, but was not able to receive care due to various reasons. He has suffered from teeth problems since the days before he was in the military and explained these issues were hereditary. He heard from a local head-of-ambulance in the community that the program had returned this year, so he came hoping for a different outcome - he was in luck.
His trucker-style veteran cap included a small dream-catcher pin, honoring his American Indian heritage, and he sported a desert camouflage jacket rolled up at the sleeves. Hopeful for some dental care, he adjusted his glasses as various U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from the unit greeted him.
"Look at all those cargo pockets and Velcro" remarked Smith of the current iterations of Army camouflage being worn by the Soldiers. "Man, the uniform has really changed a lot since I put mine on for the last time in 1980."
He filled out his paperwork and was taken to triage for vitals, weigh-in and blood work.
"Mr. Smith!" exclaimed Spc. Jennifer Ross, a patient administrator with the 7221st Medical Support Unit, based out of Newark, Delaware. "You forgot to note if you had any allergies."
At the mention of allergies, Smith was transported in his mind to a field mission he was on during his time stationed in Wurzburg, Germany, with the 123rd Signal Battalion.
"I was a communications guy in the field and they put me out in this foxhole that just so happened to be the home of a bee's nest I didn't know about," said Smith, who grew up in nearby Cass Lake. "Let's just say that I found out real quick that I was allergic to bees that day. The medical guys took care of me real good that day too.... but to answer your question, nothing but bee stings."
After a quick wait in the triage waiting room, a Soldier led Smith down the hallway and into a classroom that was converted into a dental office. As the hygienists performed x-rays, Smith peered out the classroom doorway where he laid eyes on a box holding various Meals Ready-to Eat packages.
"Do you Soldiers like those things?" asked Smith, referring to the MREs. "It was C-Rations, beans 'n' weenies, and little sausages for me. Let me tell you what, I didn't enjoy them when I was serving, but after I got out, I really missed those little meals."
Following X-rays confirming his broken teeth could be removed, Smith was taken to another room where U.S. Army Reserve dental hygienists prepped and numbed the gum area for extraction. They removed the tooth on the right side and set up a return visit to remove the left.
A relieved Smith thanked the military medical staff and headed back to his car to make a 30-minute trek back to his house outside of Walker, Minnesota.
A proud Chippewa descendent, Smith said he was extremely grateful for the free health care being provided by the Soldiers to the people of Native American lineage, as well as the community.
He noted that some of his family and friends were interested in coming to the clinic, but that many were not completely trustful of the Americans after years of feeling letdown. Plus, few had transportation to make the trip.
However, he was looking forward to providing valuable information to them as a success story to show that the services were legit. He was proud to say it was his brothers and sisters in arms providing it.
"Both my children were born in a military hospital in Germany, so I know firsthand how good the Army medics treat you and how great they are at their jobs," said Smith. "It's great to see that we still have dedicated Soldiers willing to serve their country, whether it be overseas or in our own backyards."
He also noted how he is especially proud to say he is part of both entities - the military and the Chippewa nation.
"As an American Indian, we are very proud of our lineage and our tribe and people," said Smith. "I was lucky enough to have also been able to serve my country as a Soldier, as well."
Smith said this idea of service, both personal and across the medical units, is the perfect melding of his past, "I can't think of a better way to bring those two things together... It means a lot."
The Indian Health Service provides a comprehensive health services delivery system for American Indians and Alaska Natives with opportunity for maximum tribal involvement in developing and managing programs to meet health needs. The agency's mission is to raise the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of American Indians to the highest level.