Operation Bobcat in full swing in eastern Kentucky

Published 10:32 am Tuesday, June 19, 2018

BEATTYVILLE, Ky. — Members of the Air National Guard and U.S. Navy Reserve stood up four health-care clinics Thursday in Breathitt, Estill, Lee and Owsley Counties to offer no-cost medical, dental and optometry care to residents of eastern Kentucky.

The clinics opened to the general public Friday according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Amy Mundell, a medical administrative officer in the Kentucky Air National Guard, which is serving as the lead military unit for the mission, called Operation Bobcat.

Non-emergent medical care, sports physicals; dental exams, extractions and fillings; optical exams; and single-prescription eye glasses will be offered to anyone ages 2 and up. Insurance and ID are not required to receive care, which will be provided on a first-come, first-served walk-in basis.

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While Operation Bobcat offers tremendous benefits to the state, the program also provides essential expeditionary training for military health-care troops, explained Mundell, the mission’s officer in charge.

“Programs like this are designed to give our troops the opportunity to deploy to a remote site and set up clinics under field conditions, much like we would when responding to a real-world natural disaster, contingency operation or war-time tasking.

“This is the kind of training we can’t accomplish at our home units, so deploying to a location like eastern Kentucky allows us to sharpen our combat-support skills while also serving the people of the Commonwealth.”

Indeed, Operation Bobcat is a substantial logistical undertaking. More than 215 Air National Guardsmen and Sailors arrived at the four sites earlier this week, at which point they immediately began setting up clinics at Breathitt, Estill, Lee and Owsley County High Schools in Jackson, Irvine, Beattyville and Booneville, respectively.

Those clinics required the shipment, reception and employment of more than 30 tons of medical gear and support equipment, including satellite communications networks, Internet capability and telephone access. The team even brought its own food services, which will serve more than 8,000 meals through the end of the mission.

“There is absolutely no substitute for the kind of training our providers receive in logistics and field operations during missions like Operation Bobcat,” said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Walter Schratz, a dentist and the mission’s assistant officer in charge. “It is absolutely the gold standard in medical readiness training.”

In fact, Operation Bobcat is supported by the Innovative Readiness Training Program, a Department of Defense initiative designed to enhance military skills while providing lasting benefits to the civilian community.

That sense of service is one of the more rewarding aspects of IRT missions, Schratz added.

“The opportunity to provide care to an underserved community can be a life-changing event for our practitioners,” Schratz said. “Many patients can’t afford necessary treatment, especially for dental care, and it’s extremely rewarding for us to be able to meet that need. I became a dentist because I want to help people. This mission does exactly that.”

Operation Bobcat is co-sponsored by the Kentucky Department for Local Government, charged by Gov. Matt Bevin to provide assistance to local governments. The agency is working closely with communities and local leadership to host participating troops and provide logistical and programmatic support, said DLG Commissioner Sandra K. Dunahoo.

DLG also plans to host a resource center that will offer information on wellness, nutrition and immunizations, among other health topics.

The Kentucky Air National Guard led a similar effort in western Kentucky in 2016 that offered care to more than 4,000 residents, providing 13,000 medical, dental and optometry procedures with an economic impact of $1.5 million. That team also provided 1,800 pairs of prescription eyeglasses and $20,000 worth of medications free of charge.

The four clinics will be open through June 24. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Locations are Lee County High School in Beattyville; Owsley County High School in Booneville; Estill County High School in Irvine; and Breathitt County High School in Jackson. Patients will be accepted on a first-come, first-served walk-in basis. The clinics are open to anyone, ages 2 through adult, regardless of place of residence. No insurance is required, and an ID is not necessary to receive care.

For the latest updates, visit www.facebook.com/OperationBobcatIRT.