Airmen serve community in need – are rewarded with life-changing experience

  • Published
  • By Mr. Timothy Sandland
  • 102nd Intelligence Wing

Ask a member of the Uniformed Services why they joined and among the top of the list of reasons why will inevitably be, “to serve my country.”

Thanks to Innovative Readiness Training, the ability to serve one’s country is not only a reality, but an opportunity to help those in need.

IRT is a collaborative program that connects the need for required, real world training with resources provided by the civilian community, resulting in immeasurable benefits for communities in need. Community services provide the resources and amenities, while military units contribute the skilled service members and training goals.

For a week in August, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and members of the U.S. Public Health Service descended on three key locations in the state of Georgia.

For Airmen of the 102nd Intelligence Wing, the experience was both eye-opening and fulfilling.

“IRT is held every year across the country. Communities can apply to be chosen and every year we choose and service a set amount depending on resources,” said Master Sgt. Danielle Burns of the 102nd Medical Group who served as NCOIC for the Columbia IRT mission.

These members of the Uniformed Services routinely participate in the training which is typically held on an annual basis.

“All branches become involved in an IRT – Air National Guard, Army National Guard and Navy Reserve are usually the bulk of the services manning an IRT but when there are shortfalls we call upon Active duty and Public Health Service,” said Burns.

The team of over 160 personnel brought with them the skills and tools to treat members of this impoverished community. Dental care, medical procedures, optometry, behavioral health and physical therapy are among the services that were offered to those in need.

Even pets were treated – veterinary services were provided, ensuring citizen’s four-legged family members had their shots.

Giving back to Americans in need is truly a gratifying opportunity for these Airmen. The training they received and increased effectiveness of their mission notwithstanding – the improvement in the quality of life of these families speaks volumes to the character and demeanor of these uniformed caregivers.

“IRT gives us an excellent avenue for real world hands on training. We not only learn how to set up in field conditions with field equipment but we learn to do more with less and adapt to our surroundings,” said Burns.

“We also get to see real patients from the community and put all our medical training into action which is rewarding when you live in a world filled with computer based training. Nothing can replace that hands on experience.”

Reinforcing medical skills are not the only training that is. As a fairly new Senior NCO, Master Sgt. Burns recognized the intangible skills she honed during this IRT.

“I have gained a multitude of skills from this experience. I had to be in constant contact with the planning of this mission while also keeping up with the mission at home. I have become much better at confidently speaking in front of large groups. I learned that every member is a strong asset if you get to know them and play to their strengths,” said Burns.

“I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to see a mission and all its hard work from the other side and for being able to be that point of contact and that voice for my troops.”

Logistically speaking, the IRT would not be possible without the support of other key players.

“As NCOIC in Columbus I was able to see the mission from start to finish. I was heavily involved in all aspects of planning which opened my eyes to how many different roles are needed to complete a mission,” said Burns.

Airmen from several different units and AFSCs accompanied and supported the medical teams such as Logistics Readiness, Services and Finance.

“Communication needs to be strong and good working relationships develop not only with wing members but with community partners as well. Seeing Airmen from every unit come together for one goal was really empowering.”

Thanks to Innovative Readiness Training, the ability to serve their country was not only a reality, but an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of those in need – all while sharpening skills and improving mission readiness though real-world training.

The Senate Armed Services Committee noted in the FY93 Defense Authorization Act:

“The American people have made an enormous investment in developing the skills, capabilities, and resources of the Armed Forces. These resources, if properly matched to local needs and coordinated with civilian efforts, can be a useful contribution to addressing the serious domestic needs of the United States.”

The 2022 Georgia IRT is certainly evidence that this program works – and it works pretty darn well.