KOTZEBUE, AK. -- As the snow and ice continue to slowly disappear from the streets and local residents begin to shed their layers with the warmer weather approaching, service members with Innovative Readiness Training Arctic Care 2018 wrap up their training and prepare to head back to their home units, Kotzebue, Alaska, April 25, 2018.
For the past two weeks, service members have been 26 miles above the Arctic Circle providing medical, dental, optometry and veterinary care to 12 remote villages throughout the Northwest Arctic Borough of the state of Alaska, April 13-25.
In those two weeks, 806 medical procedures were performed, 936 optometry patients were seen, and over 500 dental appointments took place throughout the 12 different villages. The total value of the care is immeasurable as it will have lasting impacts on the residents of these communities.
“Through our training here in the Arctic Circle, we have been able to provide so much care to these residents,” said Navy Cmdr. Scott T. Ozaki, mission officer in charge of IRT Arctic Care 2018, 4th Dental Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group. “Innovative Readiness Training's are meant to accomplish two missions simultaneously. The first being to provide hands-on training to our service members and a second being to provide care to remote areas of our country. We definitely accomplished both with this iteration of Arctic Care.”
Being immersed into the hearts of communities and building that strong civil-military relationship with culturally complex populations is part of the overall vision of the Department of Defense sponsored IRT program.
“Through the services we provided, we really developed a lasting bond with these people,” Ozaki said. “The community members rallied around the service members dispersed in the villages and treated them like they were one of their own. We were able to learn so much from experiencing a new culture and meeting such welcoming people.”
Achieving mission success didn’t come without battling a few obstacles along the way. Being above the Arctic Circle and fighting austere weather conditions, service members needed to have the “adapt and overcome” mentality to jump any hurdles they encountered.
“We had some challenges due to weather on the front and back end of training,” Ozaki said. “There were delays getting some teams out to the villages in the beginning, and towards the end we had to pull our teams out early due to some severe weather moving in. Our leadership team was able to come up with several courses of action get everyone back safely and they worked hard to execute the plan. Fortunately, it didn’t affect our mission success and everything worked out just right.”
As the service members pack their bags with gear and memorabilia from their journey, they reflect on the differences they have made and many hope they will have the opportunity to participate in an IRT again.
“Training and serving the community at the same time is something that we don’t always get to experience during our annual trainings,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Victor A. Gonzalez, a dental technician with 4th Dental Bn. “It’s an experience I’ll never forget and if an opportunity to do this again ever comes up, I will be the first to volunteer.”