July 30, 2009

Air Guard and Defense Force assist with free health clinic

By Maj. Cotton Puryear
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

WISE COUNTY, Va. — Airmen from the Virginia Air National Guard’s Virginia Beach-based 203d RED HORSE Squadron and members of the Virginia Defense Force from the Roanoke-based Highland Brigade provided assistance July 23-26 for the Remote Area Medical Health Clinic in Wise County. Five Airmen set up two tents with electricity and air conditioning to be used for optical exams, and almost 40 VDF members provided traffic control and distributed numbers to organize patients when the clinic opened at 6 a.m. July 24. VDF personnel also provided security at the site overnight.

  Remote Area Medical Health Clinic in Wise County

Airmen from the Virginia Air Guard's 203d RED HORSE Squadron set up two tents used for optical exams July 23 at the Remote Area Medical Health Clinic in Wise County. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) Please click HERE for more photos.

“The services provided by Virginia Air National Guard and the Virginia Defense Force at the RAM WISE operation made an extraordinary difference to the execution of the operation which provided thousands of needy Americans with the health care that they desperately needed,” said Stan Brock, founder of RAM. The event in Wise was the 575th event the group has organized.

The Remote Area Medical Health Expedition provides free basic medical care and eye and dental needs. More than 1,800 volunteers helped run the event, which is celebrating its 10th year in Wise County. Organizers stated it is the largest outdoor free health care event in the nation.

During its 30 hours of operation, the clinic provided vision, dental and medical services to more than 2,700 people. Health care providers extracted more than 4,200 teeth, and conducted almost 1,100 eye exams.

“I love coming out and helping people,” said Sgt. 1st Class Henry Powers of Nickelsville, a VDF member from the Gate City-based 34th Battalion, Highland Brigade. “I retired a few years ago, and that’s what I have spent most of my time doing. That’s why I joined the Defense Force.”

  Remote Area Medical Health Clinic in Wise County

A member of the Virginia Defense Force hands out a patient number July 23 at the Remote Area Medical Health Clinic in Wise County. (Photo by Maj. Cotton Puryear, Virginia Guard Public Affairs) Please click HERE for more photos.

Powers served a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1968, and continued to serve in the National Guard when he left active duty. He said he joined the VDF 20 years after he left the Guard because he wanted to get back into his community and help people.

“This was a volunteer mission for us, and it has been really cool that we're able to take part in an operation like this,” said Staff Sgt. Mike Melugin, an Air Force electrician from the Outer Banks. The five Airmen drove more than 500 miles to bring the equipment to set up the two 30 ft. x 18 ft. tents for the clinic.

“I like to get out and do missions like this where we can see that it helps people,” Melugin said. “This is part of our mission, but instead of just being training, we are actually helping people. Even being a small part of something like this awesome.”

For Melugin, this was his first chance to work with the VDF, and he was impressed with what he saw. “I have been really impressed with the Virginia Defense Force,” he said. “I didn’t really have a clue about what they did but the wealth of experience they have is huge.”

According to RAM organizers, about $250,000 was spent in order to provide care worth about $1.5 million. In the 10 years the clinic has been held in Wise, organizers estimate they've treated more than 25,000 people. They have eight more expeditions planned this year, from Virginia to California.

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