Kansas Guardsmen deploy to Armenia

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Tim Stevens
  • 190th Medical Group
A joint Kansas Air and Army National Guard medical team consisting of five 190th Medical Group members along with a Kansas Army National Guard dentist deployed from 15-22 September to provide basic dental, optometric, and public health care to rural residents in the Republic of Armenia. Armenia and Kansas have participated in over 45 State Partnership Program exchange events over the past four years, but this was the first ever humanitarian assistance visit.

During the humanitarian mission, the team visited 3 rural villages in southern Armenia. The remote villages of Darbis, Shamb, and Tatev in Sisian Marz (District) have populations of between 700-1,400 people and medical services are limited. 

Kansas participants included Lt. Col. William Hefner, Optometrist, 190th Medical Group; Lt. Col. Martin Powell, Dentist, Kansas Army National Guard; Capt Ingrid Trevino, Public Health Officer, 190th Medical Group; Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Norling, Health Technician, 190th Medical Group; Tech. Sgt. Michael Riblett, Dental Technician, 190th Medical Group; and Senior Airman Olivia Hof, Optometry Specialist, 190th Medical Group. The Kansas team was joined by two doctors and several nurses from the Armenian Ministry of Defense. Peace Corps volunteers and a local doctor provided additional assistance. 

The humanitarian assistance mission was an incredible experience for the team. "It was a great way to utilize our military training and resources by providing professional health care services to those in critical need. The people we
served during this mission were truly thankful for our visit," said Trevino 

During the three day visit, the team treated 80 dental patients and extracted 105 teeth and examined 223 optometry patients and distributed 225 pairs of glasses. The 
dental section treated cases from pediatric to geriatric and included both males and females. Referrals and recommendations were provided for services that could not be
administered on the spot. According to Hefner, "Followon care for those patients requiring cataract surgery was arranged with USAID's Mobile Eye Hospital that will visit the villages in the spring of 2008." 

Hoff pointed out that it was wonderful to be able to help and have such a significant impact on some of the villagers. "It was great to see the older folks and younger
children, who have never had a glasses, try on a pair and get this surprised look and smile on their face, because now they were finally able to see," said Hof. 

This trip was Hoff's first deployment, her first trip overseas, and first flight over two

Contact with Americans in this region is limited, especially visits by U.S. military
personnel. "We were informed that in some of the areas where we would be working, we might be the first Americans that these people would meet. So it was vital to leave them with a good impression. When patients first began arriving at the clinic, they were quiet and a little unsure. By the end of the day, they were smiling and wishing us well as they left without a toothache or with a new pair of eyeglasses," Trevino said. 

Military involvement in a humanitarian medical mission was an unexpected role for
some people. A Peace Corps volunteer assisting the team as a translator was surprised to see the military in her remote village of Tatev. 

"She was even more surprised to learn that we were in the Guard. She had no idea the active duty military performs humanitarian missions, let alone the Air National Guard," said Trevino. 

In addition to providing needed basic medical care, the Armenian and American participants exchanged information and learned from each other. TSgt Riblett said,
"Working in concert together provided an opportunity for comparing standards of
care, treatment models, and a discussion of differences." The opportunity to work
together leads to greater understanding and increased interoperability. 

There was time during the mission to visit and experience the Armenian people, land, and culture. "I have been fortunate to have traveled to many places all over the world, and Armenia was one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been
too," Trevino said. 

Riblett commented that he was impressed with the gracious and warm people of Armenia. 

Kansas was officially matched with Armenia during the fall of 2002 through the State Partnership Program (SPP). Key areas of cooperation between Kansas and Armenia
include peacekeeping operations, medical, disaster response, and education. Although
the foundation of the program is based on military-to-military cooperation, the
partnership includes military-to-civilian, and civilian-tocivilian exchanges. 

The State Partnership Program links National Guard states and territories with partner countries for the purpose of fostering mutual interests and establishing long-term
relationships across all levels of society. Development of economic, political, and
military ties between the states and partner nations is encouraged by the program. The
National Guard functions as a role model in demonstrating how a military organization can interact with the citizens and their government while reinforcing the concept that the military force of a nation is subordinate to that nation's civil authorities.