Medical team provides care to Blackfeet

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Przybyciel
Deploying to impoverished, third-world countries is nothing out of the ordinary for medical professionals from the 446th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. 

However, providing assistance to a region devastated by poverty in our own country is.
Jumping on the chance to lend a hand in their own backyards, 15 Reservists from the 446th AMDS recently returned from an annual tour to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Mont. According to the U.S. census, the reservation is one of the top 100 regions of poverty in the country. 

"Many times, we've sent out individuals to assist where needed, but this time we were able to send a larger group to give medical care and aid to the (people of the) Blackfeet Reservation. It was a great opportunity for us and for the reservation. It was an opportunity to give back," said Col. John Lenihan, commander of the squadron. 

Airmen from the 446th AMDS filled in crucial roles at the Blackfeet Community Hospital, which serves a community of about 7,000 American Indians. Working alongside the small staff of resident caregivers, as well as a contingent of pharmaceutical students from the University of Alabama, the Airmen provided their experience in all areas of the hospital, from the emergency department to the dental department. 

"They're restricted to limited federal funding, so they ask for help wherever they can get it," said Capt. James McManus, a health services administration officer with the 446th AMDS. 

In an area where the unemployment rate hovers around 70 percent, one of the biggest issues McChord Reservists had to deal with was tied directly to the poor economy - alcoholism. 

"Alcoholism was just rampant. One of the roads leading to town was called 'Death Road,' because of all the drunk drivers on it. A nurse we worked with got hit head on there and died," said Master Sgt. Mark Devaney, 446th AMDS. 

Sergeant Devaney said the hospital was loaded with patients who were injured due to being intoxicated. 

"This one guy came in after putting his arm through a window. We had to hold him down, even though he was basically bleeding to death," he said. 

However, the professionalism of the local medical caretakers impressed Sergeant Devaney. 

"It was one of the toughest set-ups we've ever had, but they were some of the friendliest people I've ever worked with," he said. 

Due to the remote location of the reservation - near Glacier National Park - the team had to overcome several logistical hurdles in order to pull off the mission, such as a 30-mile commute through winding terrain every day. 

Before the squadron even hit the ground, an advance team, including Captain McManus, had their own issues with scouting the area. After arriving in the bitter cold of winter, they had to make their way from the airport to Glacier National Park in the middle of a storm. 

"There was stuff hitting the windows left and right, and the whole car was rocking," he said. 

Sergeant Devaney recounted a local story of the weather extremes. "In the winter, the temperature can stay around 40 degrees below zero. There's a record wind gust of 168 mph. I heard a story that the winds have even knocked over freight trains," he said. 

The 446th AMDS was the first-ever Air Force unit to provide assistance to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. And despite the uninviting weather, the friendly people and their needs make it inviting to return. 

If Captain McManus has his way, this won't be the last time the unit provides assistance to the people of the reservation. "We probably won't go back next year, but we'd like to go the year after," he said.