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NEWS | June 20, 2024

Service members provide $2M in no-cost medical care to Virgin Islands

By Master Sgt. Rachelle Morris Air Force Reserve Innovative Readiness Training

Approximately 240 service members from across the United States, including the 59th Medical Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, provided no-cost health care to more than 2,000 Virgin Islands residents June 1-9, many leaving behind their civilian jobs such as doctors, dentists and optometrists.

The event, spanning three islands and multiple locations, was the inaugural Virgin Islands Wellness Innovative Readiness Training (IRT), which is already confirmed to occur again next year.

“We provided mission essential military training while serving the community of the Virgin Islands by providing no-cost medical care, optometry and dental services,” said Maj Mu Zhang, VI Wellness officer in charge and optometrist. “Logistically, we had to figure out travel arrangements and accommodations, sourcing doctors from all over the country, as well as moving medical equipment and assets to the island. It all took meticulous planning.”

Many community partners contributed to the mission as well.

“We had to do a lot of collaboration with the Department of Health, Department of Education, as well as the Air National Guard,” Zhang said. “FEMA was also involved as well as civilian organizations such as Remote Area Medical.”

The symbiotic relationship of all parties was essential to the success of the mission.

“We have been planning all year to make sure we can make this mission, on all three islands, a tremendous success,” said Dr. Tai Hunte-Ceasar, Virgin Islands DoH chief medical officer. “We know what it is like to work with the military – it is always a pleasure. This means the world to me that this is something that we can do for everyone regardless of ability to pay or ability to access care.”

National Guardsman, Capt. Cosme Harrison, Medical Readiness Detachment, echoed her sentiment.

“The role of the National Guard in this event is to provide support to the IRT wellness fair,” Harrison said. “Knowing these resources have come to benefit my community in such a meaningful way, it is an amazing feeling, and I am grateful to support it. Working along with the Air Force has been such a great experience -- everyone is so committed to the mission.”

All IRT missions are dual-hatted as community service and an opportunity for service members to receive real-world training they may not receive at their home units.

“Here on this mission, we have 248 members from 44 different units out of 40 groups, representing 33 unique wings,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Canon, 184th Medical Group.

Many of whom skipped lunches, stayed late and worked through power outages, to get as many residents health care as possible.

“The feedback I have been getting back from the people receiving services is incredible,” said Hunte-Ceasar. “They are asking, ‘How often can you do this and are you going to come back?’ So, I am super excited that we have already put in the application for next year. This is something we plan and hope we will continue to do and get bigger and bigger every year.”

Cybersecurity isn’t the only service Air Force Reserve Command’s IRT team provides. They also perform medical, civil engineering and aerial spray services for U.S. communities in need.