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Pope Airman returns from Operation Arctic Care

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
In the midst of freezing temperatures, sometimes sinking below a -50 degree wind chill, a committed team of military members diligently provided medical care to Alaskan villagers, some of whom arrived on snowmobiles from more than hour-long distances. 

Nearly 150 people from across the country and from various military branches gathered together to participate in the annual Operation Arctic Care based out of Bethel, Alaska, which provided no cost health care and veterinary care to remote villages in Western Alaska. 

Tech. Sgt. Hermann Schieder, 43rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron Optometry Assistant, spent two weeks on one of the 11 teams that provided a wide range of medical services to many of the under populated areas. 

"I thought it would be a great opportunity to give back to the community," Sergeant Schieder said. "In our career field we have very limited deployments, so I really just wanted to do something different. I've also heard great stories from past doctors I worked for about how much of an impact they can have on these individuals in the remote villages." 

Some of his duties entailed screening patients for visual acuity, eye pressure, confrontational visual field tests and medical history. He also fitted patients for glasses and ordered their eye wear daily from the Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity team back at base camp in Bethel, Alaska. 

"Many patients were wearing glasses that were way too weak for them, or some of the children had never had an exam before and suffered from poor vision that would severely hinder learning in school," Sergeant Schieder said. 

Lt. Col. Trent Tate, 43rd AMDS Commander, has also been involved in many of these types of humanitarian efforts, including two in Alaska, Operation Arctic Care in 2004 and Top Ice in 1999. 

"These missions provide great experiences and really get you familiar with the equipment, which is not like what you have back at your base clinic," he said. 

Colonel Tate recalled one particular trip where he and his co-worker were dropped off by aircraft in a remote location, each carrying a special back pack full of lighter equipment, an A-bag of cold weather gear and a trunk holding heavier equipment. They hiked to their village destination and within a half hour were receiving patients for 12-hour care. 

"The lessons Sergeant Schieder has learned at Operation Arctic Care will always be with him," Colonel Tate said. "I don't know anyone who has done one of these missions and has had any trouble on a deployment." 

In addition to helping the less fortunate, Sergeant Schieder also enjoyed being able to take part in a joint effort. 

"The smoothness of gathering all the different services, active duty and Reservists, and being able to gel so quickly as one unit was very impressive," he said. "Each of the 11 teams sent to random villages had a mixture of every service, and we were all able to come together and perform the mission as if we had been working together for a lot longer time period." 

Getting used to subtle nuances of the different branches was also part of the joint experience. 

"It was a learning curve," Sergeant Schieder admitted. "The main organizers for this trip were the Navy. We had to get used to doing some things a little differently, and we had to learn some new phrases. One example is we had to 'muster' every morning and again before lights out at night. 'Muster' is the Air Force equivalent of roll call." 

All in all, it was a very good experience for Sergeant Schieder, one that he would readily volunteer for again. 

"I would definitely do it again if the option came up," he said. "The personal satisfaction of knowing you did something so many other people would volunteer for and that I was lucky enough to get chosen for makes me feel proud. There is nothing better than having patients continually thank us for not only our service to our country, but that we also took time out of our busy schedule to fly up there and perform these services."