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Navy, Guard Docs Lend Helping Hand in South Texas

By Staff Sgt. Len Butler
National Guard Bureau

WESLACO, Texas, Aug. 9, 2000 – Texas National Guard Public Affairs - More than 150 Naval Reserve, Texas Army National Guard and federal and state personnel converged on three elementary schools here July 24 to kick off the Marine Corps' "Lone Star 2000."

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Navy corpsman Petty Officer 1st Class Brian N. Echols of the 4th Force Service Support Group immunizes a child at La Joya Elementary School in La Joya, Texas, during Operation Lonestar 2000. The two-week-long civil- military Innovative Readiness Training project provided basic medical and dental care to some 10,000 South Texans by the end the exercise ended Aug. 4. Photo by Staff Sgt. Len Butler, Texas ARNG.

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Lone Star gives free medical and dental assistance to under-served citizens in the surrounding area. The program marked its second year in the Rio Grande Valley near the Texas-Mexico border and ran through Aug. 4. Besides the Navy and guardsmen were members of a disaster medical assistance team of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and officials of the Texas Department of Health.

Lone Star services included medical and dental care, a pharmacy for refilling or making prescriptions, stress and diabetes testing and immunizations for anyone from babies to adults. Doctors and physician assistants evaluated and treated minor injuries and illnesses and provided well-baby care and immunizations. With fall fast approaching, many parents took advantage of the free immunizations for their children.

"The immunizations are primarily geared for school," said Cmdr. Jan E. Boyd of the 4th Force Service Support Group. "All the shots that are given to the kids here meet all of the entrance requirements that are needed to get enrolled."

Last year's program treated about 7,000 patients. South Texas Regional Director Dr. Brian Smith of the Department of Health estimated Lone Star treated up to 10,000 this year.

Smith said the growing need for assistance in this region results directly from explosive growth in the Rio Grande Valley. In the last 10 years, the area population has grown by 30,000. While the valley has grown in population and commerce, however, basic health coverage has lagged behind.

"At least 100,000 of the estimated half million people that live in this region are indigent and uninsured," Smith said. "Add another 100,000 who are working poor and lack health benefits, and you have a large population without access to proper health care."

Many of the patients treated reside in the area's numerous colonias, or low-income villages. Many of the colonias are built by their occupants and lack the basics, such as electricity and running water.

Operation Lone Star served a dual purpose: The Navy corpsmen and National Guard medics who took part exercised their military training on the "real-world" mission of treating people who need medical and dental care. Both are key requirements of DoD-sponsored Civil-Military Innovative Readiness Training programs such as this one. In fiscal 1999, Naval Reservists participated in seven IRT programs in Texas alone.

Cmdr. Don A. Hatfield, a dentist with the 4th FSSG, said there are certain limitations on the type of medical and dental care the patients receive, which stem from his unit's mission.

"We are set up as field medical and dental units," he said. "In my case, when the Marines deploy, we go with them and set up our operations in potentially austere locations. We cannot provide the type of dental care that requires the use of laboratories."

That's just fine with Rosa Cantu. Her daughter, Anna, received her booster shots just in time to start kindergarten. She said it means one less thing she has to worry about when Anna goes to class.

"I try to work and fit time to be with my daughter," Cantu said. "It's very stressful having to buy school clothes and get ready for school. This makes it so much easier."

The corpsmen and medics are no strangers to these types of medical missions. The National Guard has routinely performed medical missions in Central and South America, while Navy personnel have attended to Eskimo communities in remote areas of Alaska.

Texas Guard Staff Sgt. Judith A. Green of Detachment 5, State Area Command, said her experience in helping the less fortunate has been a rewarding one. "This is a great opportunity for the people here to get the medical care that everyone should be entitled to, but normally couldn't afford," she said.

(Staff Sgt. Len Butler is assigned to the Texas National Guard Public Affairs Office.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageCmdr. Don A. Hatfield peforms a dental examination at the La Joya, Texas, treatment site during Operation Lonestar 2000. The two-week-long civil-military training project provided basic medical and dental care to some 10,000 South Texans by the end the exercise ended Aug. 4. Photo by Staff Sgt. Len Butler, Texas ARNG.   
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