“Do you see the army men*?”
“You date them?” … “You wanna go out with them?” …**
*(Even after explaining that not all people in uniform belong to the army and that the army is a subgroup of the overarching U.S. military, they only referred to them as army men.)
**This seems to be the students’ main aspiration for my future.
That conversation was my first exposure to the incredible program that is “Arctic Care”.
My second exposure came as I awaited the charter flight after a long weekend of winter camping and assisting in leading youth leadership activities, we heard word that Blackhawks would be landing in Shungnak and unloading for the week.
I wasn’t quite sure what this entailed, but I soon learned that these were the same helicopters with the “army men” (military personnel) that the two middle school boys I was chaperoning tried to point out for any romantic inclinations I may have had on that field trip.
We joined villagers, staff members, and others on the airstrip as the two massive helicopters landed. Their blades stirred up gravel and snow, sending it pelting into our faces and forcing us to shield ourselves, but it was all worth it.
Members from various branches of the military jumped out of the Blackhawks and began to unload the supplies they would need to set up health services for the week. Their skills weren’t limited to merely small medical procedures, but it also included veterinary, dental, and vision specialists. As far as I understand, Arctic Care is part of a “Disaster Readiness” training where teams that would be dispatched in emergencies train through every step of transporting, setting up, and taking down medical stations…while providing communities with services they don’t have access to.
I had prepped the students that joined me on the walk to the airfield that they couldn’t help with the unloading unless they had permission and that they may not be able to talk to the individuals getting off the Blackhawks because they were working. The students were in awe. One stood by me and took photos with my sister’s DSLR, another watched and waited with starry eyes. The minute the helicopters were off, the materials were loaded into sleds pulled by snow machines and young villagers drove the equipment along with hulking figures back to the school.
I couldn’t have been prouder of one of the students with us. As he noticed that nonmilitary personnel were helping load the sleds, he jumped in to assist. As the sleds drove off and there were people left waiting for them to return, he introduced himself and asked appropriate questions. These are things I watched him do at the camp the entire weekend, but it was awe-inspiring to watch him slide seamlessly into that role in a new place with so many new people.
When I arrived back in my classroom on the island, I found a group of the Arctic Care team set up. They had come to our village as well and would be staying for the week to provide us with those same services. (All in good timing as it seemed a few teachers fell ill…or literally fell and got a concussion due to excessive refreeze.) They were the best hotel guests a teacher could have asked for: always out of the room before I showed up in the morning, patient when I wasn’t out when they showed up in the evening, and always leaving it the way they found it. They all had stories to tell and had come from all over the U.S. — most of them didn’t know any of the other members before arriving. Amidst all of their hard work, the amazing example they showed for the students of adults being efficient and working together calmly, they also were flexible when their hotel stay got extended another day (and not because of weather).
It was amazing for me to witness and I know it meant a lot to my students. I wish I had more information, facts, or tidbits to share.
One of team, Major Simms, shared a link with our staff of pictures he had taken during his time with us.
Here is a video, he put together, that gives a fairly cool depiction of our village (& may or may not feature some cross-country skiing games): https://www.dvidshub.net/video/595596/kivalina-alaska