Reserve doctor leads medical humanitarian mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Damien Taylor

Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Naumann, a 512th Airlift Wing physician, had 24 hours to travel from a civilian medical mission in Malawi, Africa, leap into ABUs and arrive in the Smoky Mountains for Innovative Readiness Training July 31. His word above all to describe the quick transition was - different.


"In Africa, they don’t understand any medical concepts,” said Naumann. “It’s essentially up to the government to give medical supplies to hospitals.”


Naumann had gone from teaching hand washing in a place with virtually no electricity to building a medical facility from the ground up in Swain County, North Carolina.


Through the Department of Defense IRT program, service members from the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, Army Reserve and Navy assembled in a joint effort to provide no-cost medical, dental, vision and veterinary care to residents in Clay and Swain counties, and their surrounding areas.


Members of the Swain County medical section came together to build a clinic and assess different challenges to seek the most efficient way to complete tasks. Though it’s common for each branch of service to have a distinct way to get the mission done, there weren’t many major procedural or administrative differences in the clinic.


“In medicine, there’s only one way to do it - the right way,” said Army Maj. Robert Steckler, who worked in the medical clinic alongside Naumann.


“We’ve blended well together,” said Naumann. “It’s been excellent to work with other branches. It’s the first time I’ve gotten to do it, and it’s been a professional experience. Everyone is united by one goal.”


Smoky Mountain Medical encouraged residents to come and receive care, resources and education they didn’t have local access to. The clinic opened its doors at 8 a.m. and closed at 4 p.m. daily.


The IRT was full of new experiences for Naumann. As the officer in charge, it was his first time building a clinic from scratch. He has been in the Air Force Reserve since 2009 and described himself as a usual worker bee finding his way into a ready-made facility full of tools for him to provide care.


“The uniqueness of this situation is, I’m the eyes over readiness, organization, functionality and interagency capabilities,” said Naumann.


He added, the ability for the medical personnel to provide joint care exhibited the military’s concept: one team, one fight.


In the first five days of training, Smoky Mountain Medical personnel provided care for over 650 patients and performed over 1,812 procedures, sparing the county residents more than $132,500 in medical expenses in Swain County.


“I’m impressed by the idea that if 100 people walked in at this moment, we would be able to help them,” said Naumann.


Smoky Mountain Medical at Swain County worked to provide care for the residents, and give back to a community that has sent sons and daughters into the armed forces and supported the military for years.


Amy Jennings, a Swain County resident, who visited the clinic twice, expressed her gratitude to each section.


“This is amazing,” Amy said appreciatively. “It’s beneficial to the entire community, and we are very thankful.”


The medical section checked residents’ vitals, prescribed medicine and handed out pamphlets on local public health resources and care.


“We love what we’ve been able to provide so far,” said Naumann. “It would be neat to extend the scope of medical care and services to help even more. We have surgeons, anesthesiologists, family practice, and we have the manpower.”


Over a two week period, in both Clay and Swain counties, Smoky Mountain Medical cared for 5,800 residents resulting in over $1 million in medical expenses at no cost to them.


Some of the residents and neighbors of Swain County hadn’t been able to see a provider since the last Smoky Mountain IRT three years ago.  


According to the DOD IRT website, the IRT program is a U.S. military volunteer training opportunity that provides high quality, mission-essential training for Active, Guard, and Reserve support personnel. It builds mutually beneficial civil-military partnerships between U.S. communities and the DOD.


Smoky Mountain Medical 2017 is one of many IRT programs. More information on the IRT program can be found at