A 'mission through art'

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A Sequim resident braved the bitter cold and high winds of winter's last rages to bring medical care to Alaskans living above the Arctic Circle.

Priscilla Messner-Patterson is a civilian member of the Air Force Art Program through the Northwest Air Force Art Association. She recently offered her expertise in support of Operation Arctic Care 2010.

"I use the photos, sketches and interviews that I get here to create artwork that will be donated to the Air Force," said

Messner-Patterson. "I tell the story of the mission through art."

During Operation Arctic Care, medical, dental and veterinary teams from the Air Force, Army, Navy and 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.

"This mission is important because it allows people in remote areas to receive medical care," Messner-Patterson said. "There are simply not enough doctors and nurses to regularly care for the people who don't have access to services. Our military personnel are highly skilled professionals who can offer them good medical care right in their home villages."

Messner-Patterson 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 sports activities that first were 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 observing the interaction between the doctors, nurses and the medical personnel and the people of the villages," said Messner-Patterson.

Alaska is a cold, frigid place, but its people are warm and welcoming. Messner-Patterson 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.

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