KOTZEBUE, Alaska - The daughter of a Lathrop woman braved the bitter cold and high winds of winter’s last rages to bring medical care to Alaskans living above the Arctic Circle.
Air Force Senior Airman Petsamone Sountalavong, daughter of Maylaythong Singh of Lathrop, is an ophthalmic technician with the 60th Aerospace Medical Squadron at Travis Air Force Base in California. She recently offered her expertise in support of Operation Arctic Care 2010.
“My duties here are to assist the optometrist in screening patients by doing series of tests, and also fitting patients with glasses,” said Sountalavong, a 2000 graduate of Dublin High School. She went on to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in telecommunication management from DeVry University in 2002.
During Operation Arctic Care medical, dental and veterinary teams from the Air Force, Army and Navy - national guard, reserve and active-duty - provided no-cost medical care to Alaskans living in remote villages who rarely get the chance to see a medical doctor. This was the 16th year Operation Arctic Care was held in Alaska as part of the Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training Program and the first time Air Force Reserve Command had the lead.
“Arctic Care is an important mission because we are providing care to the most remote area of America, where it is difficult for the local people to receive medical care,” said Sountalavong.
Sountalavong and the other members participating in Operation Arctic Care worked hard to make sure care got to everyone in the villages around Kotzebue. During the operation, the teams saw more than 1,675 medical patients, treated approximately 1,400 dental patients, created and distributed more than 900 pairs of glasses, and vaccinated more than 730 dogs.
Residents of those villages made sure to show the teams their appreciation. Often, local communities held dinners and lunches for the service members, serving up local flavors including caribou stew, muktuk (whale blubber) and sheefish. They also demonstrated several sports activities that originally developed as survival techniques over centuries in the harsh arctic climate, as well as a number of native dances.
“My favorite part of being here is knowing that I am helping out and making a difference for the locals. Also, meeting the people and getting to know the culture, and sight-seeing,” said Sountalavong, who has completed three years of military service.
Alaska is a cold, frigid place, but its people are warm and welcoming. Sountalavong and the other participants in Operation Arctic Care experienced a side of the state few are privileged to see and it will certainly be a memory they treasure.