Story and photos by Maj. Cindi King, Joint Force Headquarters, Public Affairs
EASTOVER, S.C.- Medical readiness is one of the most critical components of being a member of the Armed Forces. Without it, he or she is categorized as “non-deployable,” meaning unable to mobilize for military operations. The Medical Command (MEDCOM), S.C Army National Guard, is charged with the vital mission of ensuring more than 9,000 Guard Soldiers around the state are medically fit to perform their roles at all times. On Sept. 7-8, 2014, MEDCOM held an Individual Medical Readiness Exercise (IMRX) at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, Eastover, S.C.
“Our mission is to improve medical readiness and influence health and wellness,” said Col. Marguerite Knox, Commander of MEDCOM. “We schedule approximately 250 Soldiers each drill day or 500 per drill weekend, but have completed physical health assessments on as many as 600 Soldiers during a weekend.”
Because of national budget issues, National Guard units around the country delayed drill for the month of September. The MEDCOM was one of the units who were instructed by Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., The Adjutant General for S.C., to drill as planned because of the importance of their mission, sustaining readiness.
Knox said the acceptable baseline for medical readiness is 85 percent, but that is still below what Commanders should strive to attain.
“It is important for leaders to keep up with individuals in their units and send them to us so we can assure that they’re medically fit,” said Knox. “It is an annual requirement for every Soldier. Assisting Commanders to keep their units medically ready is what we are here to do.”
The IMRX consists of an online pre-health assessment questionnaire completed by individuals through Army Knowledge Online. Soldiers attending the IMRX receive blood pressure screening, immunizations, and height and weight measurements. Soldiers also have vision, dental and hearing checks. Individuals over 40 years of age are required to have blood tests for glucose, cholesterol levels and an electro-cardiogram.
One of the last stops for Soldiers going through the IMRX is the opportunity to speak privately with a health care provider to discuss any concerns from their medical exam. A decade of war has caused an increased prevalence of behavioral health disorders such as depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injuries. Soldiers are carefully screened for behavioral health issues during their annual IMRX.
Captain Grace Parsons, an Army Nurse Officer in MEDCOM, briefed Soldiers about the additional behavior health initiative and reminded them that it was just as important as their physical well being.
“We have people and resources available to help those who may be experiencing stressful events in their lives; often speaking with a behavior health specialist may benefit them,” said Parsons.
MEDCOM has two behavior health officers, First Lt. Lindsay Carter, State Behavioral Health Officer and First Lt. Bill Etchinson, who talk to Soldiers and address such topics as traumatic brain injury, PTSD and depression.
“It is okay to let them know what is going on in their lives,” said Parsons. “That is what they are here for, to help.”
Knox said her IMRX team is there every month, ready to support Commanders. She added the biggest challenge to raise readiness levels is due to Soldiers not completing all of the dental requirements. The dental portion consists of updating bite-wing x-rays, panorex x-rays, and a complete dental exam. She encourages commanders to reach out to her team to assist Soldiers meet all medical readiness standards.
“The Army National Guard provides Soldiers the option to have dental care completed through the IMRX or via a prepaid voucher that can be used with a local dentist,” said Knox. “Soldiers who are not medically fit are not deployable and therefore not ready to do their job. It is just that simple.”