WISE, Va. – From Aug. 18-26, a no-cost health clinic is offering dental, optometry, veterinary, and general medical care to the underserved public of Wise, Virginia. Operated by a team of more than 130 military medical specialists from the U.S. Air National Guard, Air Force, Army, Army Reserve, and Navy Reserve, this clinic – conducted under the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training program – has so far accommodated more than 1,700 patients while service members have logged more than 1,500 training hours in a dynamic, joint-force environment.
At the end of each workday, the medical team piles into a caravan of bluebird buses and 15-passenger vans, heading from the patient care site at Wise County Fairgrounds back to their makeshift base at a nearby family campground and lodge. While most participants look forward to a quiet evening of rest, a small cadre will be working late into the evening to ensure the team’s meals, transportation, and even their recreational options are delivered with excellence.
“In the Air Force, the Services career field is the combination of a lot of things into one job description,” said Michigan Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Miszewski, services technician, 110th Force Support Squadron, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan. “It’s a broad range of services that a lot of Airmen take for granted, but you’ll definitely know when we’re not there because you won’t be happy.”
Miszewski lists the responsibilities of her team in a deployed environment: readiness, buying and managing equipment and supplies, food services, lodging, mortuary affairs, fitness testing, and recreation.
It’s a daunting charge for any team, but here at Appalachian Care 2019, the full spectrum of the Services mission is carried out by Miszewski and just five other personnel: four from the 110th FSS and one U.S. Army Reserve specialist from the 301st Field Hospital, St. Petersburg, Florida.
For all that rests on their shoulders, Miszewski and her colleagues seem to be smiling always. It’s a fact that does not come by accident.
“As services, I look at it like we’re pretty much in charge of everyone else’s morale, so if our morale is down, the whole unit is going to feel it,” said Staff Sgt. Marcee Lettinga, services technician, 110th FSS. “In any workplace, the crew makes or breaks it. With this team, morale is definitely up.”
An hour before dinner is served, Miszewski and Lettinga are preparing oversized trays of broccoli and cheese. They’re conversing casually, with words inaudible over the sounds of clanging pans and utensils. Midway through Appalachian Care’s two-week span, this has become their comfortable routine.
“We were just saying how much fun we have working together here,” Miszewski said. “On a drill weekend, there’s too much going on. You never get supervisory time, let alone time to really ask someone how they’re doing or what’s going on in their life.”
Miszewski is alluding to the opportunity for teambuilding and training offered by an Innovative Readiness Training mission. IRTs like Appalachian Care combine focused, hands-on deployment readiness training with an outreach mission to provide care for U.S. communities in need. According to Master Sgt. Jammie Mosser, services superintendent, 110 FSS, IRTs are the best utilization of time and resources to ensure his Airmen are proficient and ready to answer any call.
“On an IRT, it’s almost like a mini-deployment, where we really get to touch all of our core tasks,” he said. “Anybody can do one thing at a time fairly well after enough practice. Doing multiple things, learning to turn-and-burn at a moment’s notice, that’s when you become skilled to react on the fly; that’s why I like this opportunity.”
Mosser has participated in multiple other IRT missions, including one in Hawaii in 2013.
“I’m a big fan of the IRT program,” he said. “This is the time to learn, this is the time to give junior members the opportunity to take the lead and make decisions.”
U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Jacob Newman, a vehicle mechanic assigned to the 301st Field Hospital, St. Petersburg, Florida, says Appalachian Care has been a unique opportunity to gain experience working in a joint environment and to go outside his normal set of responsibilities to aid the mission. While initially assigned to the IRT to drive and maintain the mission’s government-owned fleet, he has also been able to lend a hand in the kitchen, employing skills he has learned as a civilian, including a ServeSafe certification from the National Restaurant Association.
“I’ve been able to fix a couple of vehicles this week and I’ve also been able to assist with preparing and serving lunches,” Newman said. “It’s been very easy to jump in and integrate with all of the branches here at Appalachian Care, especially since we’re all here with the common purpose of helping others.”
For all the goodwill and life-saving medical service generated by the Appalachian Care medical clinic, the experience and training received by its military participants will multiply far beyond these ridgelines and valleys to ensure untold future successes both stateside and abroad.
“This is a huge confidence-booster, said Lettinga. “This is what most of us joined the military to do – learn a skill and help other people, actually knowing you’re making an impact. This is the real thing.”