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Reserve Programs Reaching Out in America

By Maj. Donna Miles, USAR
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 1997 – The old saying goes that charity starts at home.

For years, Guard and Reserve members have deployed to other parts of the world to provide medical and engineering services. Now they're getting a chance to offer that same support in the United States.

Thanks to a new law, reserve component units don't necessarily have to go overseas to put their military skills to practice. They can now do it at home, while making genuine contributions to their communities.

Communities at the receiving end of the exercises get new roads, schools and other public buildings, as well as medical care for people, some who have never seen a doctor, let alone been treated by one.

But the exercises aren't one-sided. Participating units get hands-on training in critical military skills - training most say is far more valuable than exercises.

The Defense Department kicked off a pilot program three years ago to test the concept. DoD will take some lessons learned and issue a directive spelling out policy on civil-military training activities. The directive will be titled "Support and Services for Eligible Organizations and Activities Outside the Department of Defense."

Deborah Lee, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, calls it a win-win effort. "Our people get good readiness training, which is our job No. 1," she said. "In addition, it gives something back to the communities. We get a double bang for the buck."

Amy Hickox, who oversees the program, said it expands reserve component training opportunities. "This is something that's been done regularly overseas through humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping operations," she said. "Now we can do that here at home in the name of training."

Program rules ban units from taking on projects that don't offer specific mission-essential training. And the military cannot compete with the private sector to provide services. Hickox said those restrictions actually serve as a plus; she said most programs take place in extremely remote areas, often requiring units to carry out their military jobs in austere conditions similar to those they could face during a deployment.

In seven Alaskan villages above the Arctic Circle, for example, Alaska National Guardsmen and Marine Corps Reservists provided medical care to 2,100 patients during Operation Arctic Care '96. Troops provided medical, dental, optometry and ear, nose and throat services. Meanwhile, engineers carried out light engineering projects ranging from building construction to pavement repair.

In return, they got real-world readiness training in an extremely cold environment. But Lee said they got valuable deployment training too: planning for the exercise, loading up and deploying with their equipment, then setting up medical treatment sites and engineering sites in a remote area.

"The folks who participated reported that it was an invaluable opportunity to deploy to such a remote area, to set the equipment up and get a chance to use it hands-on, then to pack it up to go home again," she said.

Arctic Care '96 is just one example of the success of DoD's civil-military programs. During fiscal 1996, Hickox said, National Guard soldiers from 18 states worked in partnership with state health organizations to provide medical care in remote communities without enough local medical services of their own.

Air Force reservists coordinated with the Indian Health Service to identify and transport medical equipment DoD no longer needed to American Indian communities.

National Guard engineers from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Texas joined forces with the Army Reserve to improve deteriorating roadways along California's Mexican border. And National Guard members from Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah and engineers from the Army Reserve repaired impassable roads and bridges on the Navajo Indian Reservation at Window Rock, Ariz.

Hickox said even more civil-military projects are slated for this year. "We expect the number to increase as people realize that they can accomplish several things at once with this program - getting valuable training, supporting needy communities and exposing our military to our communities," she said.

But she insisted DoD is not necessarily leading a push for more civil-military projects. "We want those decisions to occur at the command level," she said. "Commanders are the people in the best position to identify what their people need for training and how and when they can combine their training requirements with support to communities."

All projects begin at the grassroots level, with commanders and community leaders laying the groundwork. The community is responsible for getting required work permits and approvals; the commander identifies the training elements and gets approval through the chain of command to commit troops and resources to a project.

"It's a partnership, and in the end, everyone benefits," Hickox said.

Troops say they're benefiting too, and that's helping unit recruiting and retention rates. Hickox said Guard and Reserve members get a lot of satisfaction seeing the results of their efforts and the appreciation of community members - certainly more than they could get in any simulated training environment. "That makes these programs very rewarding and fulfilling on a personal level," she said.

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