Story and Photos by Staff Sgt. Eric Walden, Texas State Guard Public Affairs
BROWNSVILLE, Texas - This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Texas State Guard’s involvement in Operation Lone Star. Operation Lone Star is a collaborative medical services project that unites state and county health and human service agencies, the Texas Military Department, local service groups and volunteers in the largest public health humanitarian effort in the country. OLS is a real-time, large-scale emergency preparedness exercise that provides medical service and disaster recovery training to state agencies and personnel while addressing the medical needs of thousands of underserved Texas residents.
Each summer since 1998, OLS provides medical care at no cost to residents of the Rio Grande Valley. For many residents, it is the only medical care they receive all year. For elements of the Texas State Guard and its Texas Medical Brigade/Medical Component Command, it is a vital training mission that offers hands-on experience in mass medical care in partnership with local public health authorities. For local residents, it is the gift of health–or of life itself.
The medical services OLS provides include immunizations, blood pressure checks, diabetes screenings, hearing and vision exams, physicals for students, medical evaluations and dental services.
Each year approximately 200 military staff members, more than 200 state and county employees and countless volunteers give their time and talents to make OLS a reality. Annually, OLS provides some 60,000 medical services to more than 12,000 Texas residents.
For the Texas Medical Brigade, OLS is its primary Annual Training event where these highly trained, licensed and certified health care professionals dedicate more than a week of their time. During the intensive training exercise, they set up Medical Points of Distribution and prepare for state and local emergencies, while providing an enormous humanitarian service to the people of Texas.
The TMB/MCC is one of the four components of the Texas State Guard. It was established in March 2003 as the Texas State Guard Medical Reserve Corps, a component of the Texas Military Department under the Adjutant General of Texas and at the direction of the Governor of Texas. It was reorganized as the TMB/MCC in May 2007 and has an authorized end strength of 350 medical and support personnel statewide. The TMB/MCC remains a Medical Reserve Corps unit designated by the U.S. Surgeon General.
The TMB/MCC serves as a regional medical response team to assist in Texas public health emergencies, including biological terrorism, epidemics and disasters. The mission is to provide licensed medical personnel and technical support expertise in response to large-scale disasters, supplementing public health authorities of the Texas Department of State Health Services. The TMB/MCC also provides medical care to military personnel of the Texas Military Department and first aid support to select community events.
Many of these medical military staff return year after year to provide services to communities that always welcome assistance with basic healthcare services. Since there are multiple locations in the Rio Grande Valley where MPODs are located, such as Brownsville, Mission, Laredo and other Rio Grande Valley locations, military healthcare providers may be assigned to new locations each year. Despite this movement, OLS has forged relationships between many physicians and clientele, relationships deep enough for clients to track down physicians they have seen before in order to see them at their new locations.
Brig. Gen. Marco Coppola, DO, the Chief Medical Officer for OLS 2019 relayed a story where he saw the same client for three years in a row. The man, who was initially diagnosed as obese and suffering from high blood pressure, sought out Dr. Coppola each year to update his medications and receive an update on his progress. In the third year, the man had lost so much weight he was no longer obese, and his blood pressure had returned to normal. This relationship between the client and his OLS healthcare provider has turned the man's life around.
Col. Jonathan MacClements, MD, Surgeon General of the Texas State Guard, had one of the most unusual cases. Last year at OLS, a man presented a disfiguring skin disorder. Dr. MacClements was able to diagnose the skin disease as leprosy and worked to ensure follow-up care of the man during the year. This resulted in the man returning to see him again this year and evaluate his progress in alleviating the debilitating disease.
Col. Robert McBroom, MD, an infectious disease specialist out of Wichita Falls, Texas, recalls a young student client who initially came in for a sports physical, which is a common need for students participating in sports in their local schools. Her experience at OLS led her to return for the last three years not only for continued care under Dr. McBroom, but also as a volunteer herself, providing translation services to clients and forging new relationships between clients and their OLS healthcare experience.
Texas State Guard providers create much more than a single healthcare experience; they create relationships where clients return year after year to follow up on their healthcare needs. These relationships exemplify a trust between the Texas State Guard medical providers not only with the local community, but also with individual clients.
“This speaks volumes for the importance of OLS and why the efforts of the Texas Medical Brigade are instrumental for the health and well-being of the citizens of Texas,” Brig. Gen. Coppola said.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 edition of The Dispatch, on page 14.