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Keesler medical aid reaches community neighbors in need

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- Capt. Tracey Gosser, 81st Medical Group Neonatal Intensive Care Unit officer in charge, treats 5-year-old Alexes Wisniewski's foot after removing some glass, while Alexes' mother, Patter, looks on. The captain is part of a medical team from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., that travels to local shelters to provide medical care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Oberly)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AETCNS) -- Capt. Tracey Gosser, 81st Medical Group Neonatal Intensive Care Unit officer in charge, treats 5-year-old Alexes Wisniewski's foot after removing some glass, while Alexes' mother, Patter, looks on. The captain is part of a medical team from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., that travels to local shelters to provide medical care. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Dan Oberly)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- As a team of Keesler Air Force Base medical personnel walked to the doors of a local high school-turned-shelter, a man approached with wide eyes and a huge smile. Stopping a few steps from the Airmen, he raised a hand to his brow and said "I salute you. I'm proud of you all and thank you for your support."

Jack Shotwell had been in another shelter, but was forced to relocate with his son due to poor conditions. Interaction with Keesler Airmen was a sign that help was arriving - and he, along with nearly 40 other shelter residents, welcomed it.

While the Mississippi Gulf Coast is focusing on rebuilding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, medical personnel from Keesler are providing comfort to many still residing in area shelters.

Every day, two teams of medical personnel consisting of doctors, nurses and social workers visit area shelters to evaluate the health of residents and provide medical care as needed.

"Once we were able to leave our shelters after Hurricane Katrina, we immediately began responding to calls for assistance from the community," said Brig. Gen. William Lord, 81st Training Wing commander.

One such call came Sept. 1, when a local police officer approached Keesler personnel to request medical aid at a shelter located in a junior high school just outside the base's gates.

"The officer told us there were a lot of people in the shelter and they were getting sick due to the lack of food, water and sanitary living conditions," the general said. "We immediately dispatched a medical team with food, water and medical supplies in order to assess the situation and provide treatment to the extent possible."

The medical humanitarian missions have continued daily for the medical teams, visiting more than a dozen shelters in just a few days after the hurricane devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

"It's such a great feeling to be a part of this effort," said 1st Lt. Schavonne Fludd, the coordinator for the medical teams' humanitarian missions. "In many cases, we are the only source of medical care these folks will receive."

And the care is well-received by residents of the shelters.

According to Gulfport police officer Eddie Hilliard, it was a blessing to see Keesler personnel arrive at the badly-neglected shelter.

"I was the only source of support for this shelter for four days after the storm," he said. "There were about 170 people living here and there was no food, water, electricity or plumbing, so conditions deteriorated quickly. Suddenly, the military showed up and brought some food and water, and the medical team arrived to provide care to those needing medical attention. It was the first food and only medical care these people received."

The team returned to the shelter a couple days later to check on the progress and provide any additional care that was needed. Once again, smiles abound as the team circulated through the gym to talk to residents and "bandage" any ills. One of the team's doctors used a satellite phone to consult a cardiologist on behalf of a resident who required medication but had none.

"It's a blessing to have the military here," Mr. Shotwell said. "You don't really know what they do until they show up and really step up to help. It's like getting a shot in the arm."