U.S. military brings free “Arctic Care” to Northwest Arctic communities

The Air Force Reserve deploys Blackhawk helicopters to transport personnel to communities for Operation Arctic Care (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force, Percy G. Jones)

People in 12 Northwest communities can get free health care services this week, thanks to the U.S. Armed Forces’ Operation Arctic Care, which happens every three years.

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Paul Hansen is the administrator of the Maniilaq Association, the health-care system for the Northwest Arctic Borough. He says it’s a win-win scenario.

“The benefit for the Armed Forces is readiness training,” Hansen said. “The benefit for the region is really a blitz of services.”

The services include a full range of regular medical care, plus dental, eye and veterinary care. They’re all available at Maniilaq’s 11 clinics throughout the region and at the Maniilaq Health Center in Kotzebue.

Hansen says Arctic Care fills gaps, providing procedures like colonoscopies that aren’t normally available. But it also helps with more routine things.

“Every year, we have to do sports physicals for all the kids in school, and we have a constant need. In early August, we’re trying to catch all the cross-country kids,” Hansen said. “Then comes wrestling season, basketball season and Native Youth Olympics. So they help us take care of that.”

Hansen says village operations for the U.S. Armed Forces are usually a smooth process.

“I know that the military gets a lot of respect around here, and people really appreciate the work they do. So the Arctic Care is really well-received,”  Hansen said.

The around 100 reservists being deployed are from all four branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as from the Canadian Air Force and Army. That’s according to Sergeant Joseph Simms, public affairs officer for the Air Force Reserve.

Simms says Arctic Care helps reservists who have regular day jobs get ready for crisis-response scenarios like hurricanes.

“They’re able to take their experience both militarily and in the civilian roles and help the people of Northwest Alaska,” Simms said.

And Simms says working with other branches of the Armed Forces is great training for deployment.

“It’s a joint environment. Because it’s not just Air Force and Army going out by themselves. We’re learning from each other, working together,” Simms said. “And that’s only going to benefit us in a deployed environment.”

Arctic Care continues through this Saturday, April 21. Borough residents can contact their local clinic to sign up for an appointment.

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