U.S. military conducts wellness, health event in Adams County
NATCHEZ, Miss. -- More than 100 members of the U.S. military launched a health campaign, but local boots on the ground will work to keep it moving forward.
The Mississippi State University Extension Service and numerous other agencies provided local support for the 13-day wellness event at the Alcorn State University and Copiah-Lincoln Community College campuses in Natchez.
Participants received vision, dental, wellness and basic medical exams, as well as behavioral counseling. An additional component addressed veterinary needs, specifically spay-neuter procedures for dogs and cats at the local animal shelter.
The Tricentennial Wellness, one of several Innovative Readiness Training events this summer, was conducted during the 300th anniversary celebration of the establishment of Natchez. Innovative Readiness Training, a civil-military partnership program dating back to 1992, creates unique opportunities to support military training requirements while offering no-cost services to meet America’s domestic needs.
Brittney Lindberg, Innovative Readiness Training project manager and military liaison with the Delta Regional Authority, explained that the event has a military focus on training and a civilian focus on health care.
“These events employ the valuable skills of our military personnel while meeting the community’s needs,” Lindberg said. “The military achieves their training objectives, while the community benefits.”
Although some would consider these services free, Lindberg explained that the cost of services comes from the existing military training budget.
Veronica Whitaker and her mother, Dorothy Temple, of Wilkinson County drove up for dental work and eye care. Temple had several teeth extracted, Whitaker had a cavity filled, and both gave the experience two thumbs up.
“That was the best dentist visit I’ve ever had,” Temple said. “I’m usually very scared, but the dentist was very encouraging and kept saying how well I was doing.”
Whitaker said even when people have insurance, dental work can be expensive.
“It feels so good to have the work done and especially to have it done so well (without pain),” she said.
Lindberg said the process for bringing the wellness event to a community takes about two years of planning. The U.S. Department of Defense works in partnership with the Delta Regional Authority to provide the equipment, personnel and guidance, while the community provides the location. Local groups and agencies are available to meet with each participant onsite and for further health care after the Innovative Readiness Training concludes.
Wilkinson County Extension Coordinator Ann Davis spent most of her time informing local residents about services offered through county Extension offices.
“The MSU Extension Service offers nutrition and health programs on a variety of topics. We also have resources online,” Davis said. “Our educational programs promote physical activity and address diabetes prevention, nutrition, safety, women’s health and many other health-related issues. These are available, often at no charge, in every county in the state.”
Wilkinson County nutrition educator Dannie Bolden spoke to participants about reducing fat and sugars in their diets, while Davis addressed budget and debt issues.
Davis said the Natchez event attracted residents of Adams County and surrounding areas. Her interactions with citizens and military personnel reveal the win-win aspect of the event.
“The people are so grateful for this no-cost service that meets some huge needs in individual lives. They have passed on that Southern hospitality and charm to the military personnel who are not from around here,” she said. “This has been a great experience for everyone involved.”
Davis said the unpredictability of numbers could have created a chaotic atmosphere.
“Clearly, the military is well prepared for anything. They have this organized down to the smallest details and are ready to adjust as needed,” she said.
Maj. Spencer Taylor, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, said the event is voluntarily staffed by service members from across the nation and Puerto Rico.
“Innovative Readiness Training events give real-world training to our personnel, but they also provide a service to the community,” he said. “This event gives us the opportunity to show service members in a different capacity. We are building relationships with civil authorities and elected officials.”
Taylor said he wanted participants to be connected with local agencies when the event concludes.
In addition to MSU Extension, other local groups supporting the wellness event included the Mississippi State Department of Health, Jefferson Comprehensive Health Center, Helping Hands Counseling of Mississippi, Families First for Mississippi, Mississippi Health Access Collaborative, Mississippi Access to Care Center, and Edna B. and Joyce Fay Washington Breast Cancer Foundation.
Lt. Col. Brian Friedland, commander of the 49th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, formulated a plan for Natchez based on needs and assets.
“The feedback from our service members has been great,” Friedland said. “They appreciated the opportunity to practice skills that help other people.”
During the 12 days, military personnel performed 3,732 medical procedures with a value of $275,836; 6,192 vision procedures worth $697,992; 828 dental procedures worth $398,205; and 172 veterinary procedures worth $16,295. The grand total was 10,752 procedures worth more than $1.37 million.