Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Texas Army National Guard doctor closes file on his last Operation Lone Star mission

By Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Miller
100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Click photo for screen-resolution image
LAREDO, Texas (8/27/13) - He sat behind a teacher's desk with chairs and tables stacked on the right side of the classroom like an incomplete level on a game of "Tetris."

"I go by Skip," he said with a fast Southern drawl and a sly smile. He sat back in his chair and looked relaxed in his surroundings as though he dispenses medical care and advice from middle school classrooms on a daily basis.

Many of those who have participated in more than one of the 15 iterations of Operation Lone Star-which provides medical services and disaster recovery training to state agencies and personnel while addressing the medical needs of thousands of under-served Texas residents- has likely met or been seen by Army Col. Arnold "Skip" Jones, assigned to Medical Command, 71st Troop Command, Texas Army National Guard.

Since the onset of Operation Lone Star in 1998, he has missed only two Lone Star operations due to an Afghanistan tour in 2005, and being "dissuaded due to the lack of funding" from the second operation in 1999.

The first mission was conducted in the southern tip of Texas between McAllen and Brownsville mainly serving the small towns and villages there. This first mission was a multi-force joint operation including Coast Guard, Air Force, Marines, Army, health department and Public Health Services personnel.

Now years later, the scope of the operation has broadened to include the Rio Grande Valley and beyond and is a real-time, large-scale emergency preparedness exercise that provides service and disaster recovery training to state agencies and personnel.

Looking back to his start in the U.S. Army in 1974, as an infantryman, Jones has come a long way. After being promoted to sergeant, he re-enlisted to become a medical specialist and flewair ambulance missions out of Fort Bliss, Texas. "

"This [physician assistant] profession looks really cool. I wanna look into this," said Jones. "I decided that it was what I wanted to do."

When he came to the end of his tour, the military physician’s assistant school wanted him to have more experience. He had already been accepted to other colleges for further study in the medical field, so he got out of the Army and went to school.

After completing physician’s assistant school, Jones joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard and became a commissioned officer. Jones said that the packet for commissioning as a physician’s assistant is an "arduous process." He also said that the officer packet is "this thick," while putting about three inches between his index finger and thumb.

Once he attained his commission as an officer, he quickly achieved the rank of captain a year later due to his "time in grade." In 1995, he joined the Texas Army National Guard.

During one of the 13 OLS missions he has worked, Jones said a local woman came to him with a large lump in her neck. She had been on thyroid medication for two years. Jones advised her to hold back on the medication and go to her primary physician to get the blood tests that they had passed up before due to the cost.

The following year he discovered that the woman he had referred for further testing learned the lump was thyroid cancer. She had the cancer removed and received the proper medications. As she was talking to another provider about her cancer resolution, she saw Jones as she rounded the corner and gave him a big hug.

He saw her over the next couple of OLS missions in that area.

"That was very rewarding," said Jones. "That was as cool as it gets."

"My most internal desire is to provide good patient education and support to people that I take care of," said Jones. "The diet in South Texas is deplorable for health. [It]… is high fat, high carbohydrate and notorious for causing diabetes and causing clogged arteries. I'd heard a rumor once upon a time that a person born in the Rio Grande Valley by age 50 has a 50 percent chance of being diabetic."

Throughout the many years he has participated in OLS, Jones has been up and down the border of Texas and Mexico helping people with little to no access to health care.

Since he is set to retire at the age of 60, this will be Jones' last year at OLS. Jones said he will stay busy part time at his clinic in College Station, Texas, working with Soldiers on their annual periodic health assessments and managing his 50-acre ranch with his sister in Franklin, Texas.

As Jones finished an exam, two nutritionists were speaking with patients about how their diet affects them and gave patients advice on how to better themselves through their diet.

Jones said, "Getting these people to understand what is good for them, what's good for their health, what they can do to help themselves, without having to go to a doctor and take a pill to fix a problem, that's what we do. That's what I love doing."

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