Arctic Care 2022: 403rd Reservists support Alaska medical mission

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, traveled to Kodiak, Alaska, May 2-15 to assist with the Innovative Readiness Training program’s Kodiak Island Arctic Care 2022 event.

According to their website, IRT is a collaborative program designed to produce mission ready forces, civil-military partnerships, and stronger communities.

For Arctic Care, the Innovative Readiness Training program teamed up with the Kodiak Area Native Association to provide medical services such as dental, vision and general healthcare as well as veterinary services for residents of the islands, said Maj. Linda McCullough, 403rd Wing executive officer, who served the mission in a personnel role. Members from the Coast Guard, Army National Guard, Marine Corps Reserve, Active Duty Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve supported the mission.

Eight members of the wing participated in the event, most of them from the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, where they primarily provided communications and personnel support for the event.

“Arctic Care is just one of many events across the country put on by the IRT,” said McCullough. “It provided an invaluable opportunity for Kodiak residents to have access to free healthcare and veterinary services while serving as an equally invaluable real-world training opportunity for participants.”

McCullough said she hesitated at first about going as she was asked to at the last minute, but ultimately, when she saw the impact the mission had on the community, she was glad she said yes.

For the duration of the mission, McCullough served as the personnel support for contingency operations, or PERSCO, officer-in-charge. She and her team of six Airmen were in charge of accountability for personnel arriving and leaving the main island, and they provided an array of information such as team assignments and lodging.

“It was great to see the very real impact we had on the community,” she said. “They were so grateful and supportive of our being there and that felt good to see and be a part of. I’m not a nurse or a medic, so of course I couldn’t contribute in that aspect, but it was still a fulfilling experience knowing my team and I were supporting such an important mission.”

The 36th AES, while an aeromedical evacuation squadron, supported the mission through the airwaves by setting up and carrying out communications efforts.

Senior Airman N’Dea Preatto, 36th AES radio frequency transmissions specialist, was able to experience her first taste of real-world communications operations during her two weeks in Kodiak.

“The villages there didn’t have much cellular or internet service, so it was important we set up communications on the different islands,” she said. “We also distributed hand-held radios, so teams could communicate throughout the villages.”

Initially, Preatto said she did not really know what the mission was, but when she got there and realized that they would be helping people who didn’t have routine access to healthcare or couldn’t afford it, that she felt very grateful to be there, helping.

“We didn’t just do communications support, though,” she said. “We were able to meet and speak with the natives and do some community outreach. There was a boy at a local school who was working to build a computer. He had gotten stuck in a certain stage of the process and we got to go meet with him and help him, and by the time we left, the computer was up and running.”

The IRT event served its dual purpose of providing a service to civilians while also offering a valuable training opportunity as Preatto said the experience allowed her to work with and learn to operate equipment she hadn’t yet had the opportunity to use in her still young career in the Air Force Reserve.

“The mission was all-around a perfect experience,” she concluded.

Medical services are not the only type of mission the IRT provides, said McCullough. Civil engineering is another robust mission with the program supporting infrastructure and vertical construction initiatives.

“It’s amazing all the different things they do for communities in need,” she said. “If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend spending your annual tour time supporting an IRT mission.”