Military mission coming to an end

Published 10:46 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2012

U.S. Air Force Maj. Steven Tittl administers a vision test to Nehemiah Taylor as part of Operation Alabama Black Belt on Wednesday at the Lawrence Street location. The 10-day military medical mission comes to an end today. -- Taylor Holland

The intensive 10-day campaign known as Operation Alabama Black Belt, which has provided free medical and dental services to residents at stations in Selma, Demopolis and Hayneville, has saved community members more than $1.5 million since it kicked off last week, said U.S. Navy Cdr. Patricia McCafferty, the officer in charge in Selma.

The campaign, which draws to a close today, has had more than 11,000 encounters in Selma alone. Every time an individual sees a specialist, an encounter is recorded, so a patient seeing multiple specialists counts as multiple encounters.

“I hope that this is just a platform for them to expand their programs and have a continuum of care so they can continue to provide services to people who are in obvious need, dire need,” McCafferty said. “We’re hoping that we’re just the platform for them to be able to continue to keep this ship moving forward.”

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In total, more than 26,000 encounters have been recorded in the three areas, McCafferty said, noting that the shear number of patients to come out shows the operation can be successful at any place, any time.

McCafferty said she has been emotionally touched ever since she arrived in Selma.

“Each one of us has a story and have met someone who has touched our lives,” she said. “I guarantee you that as we depart Friday morning and go all over the country – Hawaii, California, New Jersey, New York – we’re going to go back and tell our families, friends and colleagues of how we were able to help people at home.”

Mission commander Col. Jerry Arends, who oversaw all three sites involved with Operation Alabama Black Belt, said the number of patients the personnel have seen over the 10-day period, exceeded everyone’s expectations.

“It was outstanding,” Arends said. “I think that we were able to fill a lot of the gaps in healthcare in the communities. We were able to just sort of pull things up to where they need to be, especially in the dentistry and optometry areas. I think it helped the communities start for future planning.”

Like the 250 other medical personnel from the National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve and Air Force Reserve that were in the three cities for the past two weeks, McCafferty said she was walking away with memories and experiences she’d remember forever.

“What [the patients] have been able to give us as far as history, their stories, their culture, every person that is on this mission is going to walk away with something, some memory,” she said. “I believe we’ve touched everyone’s life here in some way.”