BROWNSVILLE, Texas (National Guard Bureau, Aug. 7, 2007) - Four-year-old Jeremiah Burkett will be ready for pre-kindergarten this fall, at least as far as immunizations go, thanks to the free vaccination service given during Operation Lone Star, a mission teaming up Texas military units and local health agencies to provide free medical and dental service to South Texas residents.

Vela Middle School here is one of four sites for the ninth annual humanitarian mission. Among these services, various immunization shots are offered; including hepatitis, tetanus, influenza, and for the first time during Operation Lone Star, human papillomavirus (HPV).

National Guard Spc. Stephanie Cardenas, an emergency medical technician from the 236th Military Police Company and assigned to Texas Medical, is giving immunization shots to patients during her first Operation Lone Star mission. Although she has spent her military career in the medical field, this particular operation has been a new experience for her.

"This is the first time I have worked with civilians," said Spc. Cardenas. "Most of my medical experience has come from treating other Soldiers."

Medical personnel at the Brownsville site have administered more than 500 immunizations during the first four days of operations. They anticipate providing vaccines to more than 800 patients during their mission. Services such as these can be invaluable, since immunizations can be quite costly, according to Spc. Cardenas. Immunization shots for HPV for example, can run more than $100.

The vaccine service being offered benefits Rio Grande Valley residents of all ages. Children can receive preventative measures for the flu, polio, measles, mumps and rubella. Female adults can help guard themselves from HPV, which can be a precursor to cervical cancer. Offering the HPV vaccine for the first time is a ground-breaking initiative, according to Army National Guard Col. Marco Coppola, commander of the Texas Medical Command and the Brownsville treatment site.

"Providing the HPV vaccine is a very innovative, cutting edge initiative," Col. Coppola said. "Health care can be hard to come by for these residents, so it is important that we provide this."

Offering the HPV vaccine is a state initiative. Col. Coppola believes this new service is a continuing trend of progress for Operation Lone Star, and one in which he is promoting by using his own initiatives for this year\'s mission.

"This year we are offering Motrin or Tylenol to kids before getting their shots," Col. Coppola said. "Fever, chills and body aches can be side effects [of the vaccination shots] so offering them these medications is a good service ... most military facilities wouldn't do that."

The new vaccine could be a sign of things to come for the upcoming annual humanitarian missions. Col. Coppola, a 6-year Operation Lone Star veteran, said he feels the mission continues to make large strides.

"Each year the mission grows more complex," Col. Coppola said. "The last couple of years the State Guard, Army and Air Guard have been getting more involved. Promoting teamwork within the joint forces is the main goal. The end point is providing these medical services, but how we get there has changed. The logistics have been divided and each year we learn more and improve."

While offering new vaccines is one sign of improvement, Col. Coppola envisions that Operation Lone Star will continue to make large strides and leave an indelible mark on the health of Texas border residents.

"I am always thinking about future Lone Star missions," Col. Coppola continued. "Even during this one I am already thinking about next year. I hope that in the future we can do this on an even grander scale and expand our coverage."