155th MDG to support IRT

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Natasha Hilsgen

The word Innovative has become a common buzzword in today's vocabulary and is a word that Maj. Erik Zingler the Optometry Officer in Charge for the 155th Medical Group has become familiar with early on and helped drive innovative change in how American citizens receive healthcare.

Zingler is a member of Innovative Readiness Training, a DoD military program exclusive to the United States and its territories that delivers joint training opportunities to increase deployments readiness while simultaneously providing key services such as optometry to American communities with limited access to resources.

“It's training because we are put in an austere environment, we are practicing what we would do without all of these comforts of being indoors, we have to transport our equipment in and out, and you are exposed to the elements,” Zingler said. “We set up clinic in a gym or some other building that’s not really meant for medical care.”

Services include optometry, health exams, dental, veterinary care, and public health education. The missions are typically conducted as fairs and may last for several days or weeks at a time to ensure maximum benefit during time spent in the community served.

“It’s very rewarding, you learn a lot, about how to do things better,” said Zingler “we always get to the end and we feel kind of bad, we wish we could do more and stay longer.”

Zingler has performed three IRT missions over the past several years. The first one in 2015 was at Crow Creek Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the second mission was in 2019 to Puerto Rico and the third was in 2021 in Alaska.

He’s been a huge supporter of these missions, which often struggle to get medical professionals to fill said Col. Patti Fries 155th Medical Group commander.
Zingler said, there is always an appreciation from the communities for the services provided. For some citizens, this is the only way to get care whether that be to do resources or limited access due to geographical constraints.

Zingler talked about his experience during the mission to the Crow Creek Reservation. The Optometrists set up shop in the back of a trailer and provided optometry services, seeing patients and providing care over a two-week period.

“I enjoy the challenge of being asked to provide care in an austere environment and overcoming the challenge. And this provides us the opportunity to provide care to the local community and provide care to our own U.S. citizens that needs assistance, it just feels good,” Zingler said.

Zingler said he plans to keep doing this as long as they will let him and already has his next mission planned. He will head out again this summer to support another IRT mission where he will be the lead optometrist.

“We have this opportunity to challenge ourselves in these roles that we have, whatever our role is in the Guard, that to me is what keeps me going and interested,” Zingler said. “I feel like I am giving a lot but almost selfishly getting so much in return.”