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Reservists provide islanders aid

  • Published
  • By Sandra Pishner
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
On a mission to bring aid and teach sustainable health practices, the 446th Airlift Wing contributed airlift and health professionals to total force effort destined for three Pacific Islands. 

In July, an aircrew from the 728th Airlift Squadron provided airlift to and from Kiribati, Nauru and Vanuatu for Reservists from the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron and Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, as well as active-duty Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors to help residents of the three remote islands. 

In a span of 96 hours, team members provided care to a total of 1,668 medical patients, trained 1,011 residents, treated 2,650 dental patients, and completed two major civil engineer projects. 

The airlift mission displayed the Air Force's ability to quickly deliver relief supplies in the form of medical, dental and civil capabilities to remote areas of the world. 

This marked the first time since World War II that there was significant U.S. military presence on those islands, and the sight of a C-17 brought a host of children onto the flightline as it landed. 

"When we landed, children, other citizens and dogs were running all over the runway," said Capt. Laura Wills, aircraft commander on the mission. "They were waving at us like they were so happy to see us and excited that we had arrived. 

And arrived they did as the medical and dental teams went to work not only providing treatment to the islands' residents, but also the tools for managing sustainable civic and health programs. 

"We looked at our mission in two ways," said Dr. (Col.) Dennis Roberton, a dentist from the 446th AMDS. "First to provide the urgent treatment for any of the children who were in pain, and then we wanted to provide them treatment that would provide them sustainable dental health, such as a fluoride varnish to prevent future cavities and sealants on their molars." 

The dental team also provided each child a toothbrush and had enough left over to provide toothbrushes to be kept at the schools. 

"We worked with the head masters of each school to set up a school-based dental health program and instructed them on how they could incorporate dental health into their classroom instruction," said Dr. Roberton. 

On Vanuatu, team members conducted "train-the-trainer" education for police force, fire department and customs people on basic life support and self-aid buddy care. 

Master Sgt. Paul Melkers, a flight medic from the 446th AMDS, used his civilian ties to make life better for the people living on the island of Nauru. 

A Seattle firefighter in his civilian life, Sergeant Melkers was able to get much-needed equipment to the island. 

"Knowing that we donate equipment and gear sometimes - equipment that doesn't meet our standards anymore - I contacted my fire department and asked them if they had equipment," Sergeant Melkers said. 

He was able to procure six large bags of fire fighting suits and boots for the island's firefighters - a contribution that was much appreciated by the local fire chief. 

"I've been trying desperately to get assistance from overseas, like international update training, and we haven't had that for quite some time now," said Chief Roy Harris, the local fire chief. 

Using their knowledge and training from being flight medics, Sergeant Melkers and fellow squadron member Tech. Sergeant Niki Smith were able to provide that training. 

The benefits of this humanitarian mission were not just for the residents of the three islands. Airmen from the 446th Airlift Wing also benefited, both in personal and professional ways. 

"This was the best deployment I've been on," said Dr. Roberton. "It was a great experience in sharing friendship and cultures. Interacting with the children was wonderful; they were all so nice and cooperative. On our last day, the teachers hosted a luncheon for us in an open air setting, sharing food with us that really isn't all that plentiful for them. They were very giving." 

Giving not only of their food, but their enthusiasm. 

"I am not sure if they had heard we were bringing in medical teams to help treat them or if they were just surprised to see such a large aircraft," said Captain Wills. "The children were so sweet. We were able to spend a little time with them, but since we did not speak the same language, it was pretty difficult to communicate. We did a lot of smiling and high fiving." 

For the aircrew, the challenge of landing on Kiribati provided some data they hope to use to encourage future missions to the islands. 

"I plan to submit airfield imagery and information to the airfield suitability office," said Captain Wills, "in hopes that they can get the airfield equipped with instrument capabilities. I think that would better the chances that these island will see aid in the future." 
(Tech. Sgt. Chris Vadnais, Air Force News Agency, contributed to this report)