It didn't make headlines, but more than 250 U.S. military medical personnel quietly deployed into a stubborn pocket of poverty this month on a relief mission that spent two weeks treating people with little or no access to medical care.
Many of the 12,000 or so people treated by the medical specialists had chronic ailments such as hypertension and diabetes, or neglected health issues such as decaying teeth and vision problems. Access to healthcare has been elusive for the people of the region. Several told their caregivers in camouflage that they hadn't seen a doctor in decades nor ever visited a dentist.
This deployment is a heartwarming story about the generosity and sacrifice of Americans in uniform providing desperately needed medical care for people with few alternatives.
Sadly, the military did not have to leave the United States to provide these badly needed services. The patients all lived around Selma, Hayneville, and Demopolis in Alabama's impoverished Black Belt, which is named for the region's dark, fertile soil.
For a third straight year military medical personnel including physicians, nurses, dentists, optometrists, and even a veterinarian—from the reserve ranks of the Air Force, Army, Navy, and National Guard—came from all over the nation to provide the care that the Department of Defense calls Innovative Readiness Training, or IRT.