Dover to benefit from more of the military’s might, as mission brings no-cost medical care in 2021

DOVER — The capital city is certainly accustomed to hosting military personnel as the longtime home of Dover Air Force Base and its massive aircraft.

However, around 300 additional individuals from every branch of the military are expected to descend upon Dover in 2021 for a pair of Innovative Readiness Training missions, bringing no-cost military medical services to the community from July 29 to Aug. 12, while also hoping to build five athletic fields at Schutte Park.

Capt. Jason Brooks, the IRT coordinator for the Delaware Army National Guard, has been trying to bring the training programs to the state for two years.

Jason Brooks

“The Innovative Readiness Training program is a program run out of DoD (Department of Defense) from the office of the secretary of defense,” Capt. Brooks said. “It is basically money appropriated to help units prepare for their training in our wartime tasks but doing it in a manner that benefits community members.

“This helps us strengthen community military relations, helps us get a training of value and creates a stronger bond between the soldiers and the communities that they serve. The Army, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps participate in this program, as well.”

There are five general categories in the IRT mission program: medical, civil engineering, cybersecurity, transportation and aerial spray.

The medical event in Dover will take place at three separate sites and will provide community members with two pairs of no-cost eyeglasses, free dental care and overall health screenings and physicals, along with the chance to speak with a doctor.

“This is an extraordinary thing,” Dover City Councilman Fred Neil said. “It’s almost like hosting the World Series, and we’re getting it (in Dover) in 2021.”

The Delaware Army National Guard will lead Dover’s IRT mission, focusing on dental and optometry care, since the state’s Medicaid program does not include those services.

Two of the sites for the medical mission are already set at Towne Point and South Dover elementary schools. The other one is still being discussed.

“The third care site was originally slated for Booker T. Washington (Elementary School), but as unfortunate as it is, the damage that it has received during the tornado (in August) has possibly prevented us from being able to utilize that site,” Capt. Brooks said.

The Central Delaware Housing Collaborative, a nonprofit that formed from the mayor’s task force to end homelessness, applied for the IRT mission Sept. 30, 2019, and it was approved Nov. 1, 2019.

“I want to say thank you to the Capital School District, which is providing the site locations and a lot more,” said City Councilman David Anderson, who has helped spearhead bringing the IRT missions to Dover. “I also want to thank the Central Delaware Housing Collaborative for what they’ve done to allow themselves to be the community nonprofit, which has provided a great deal.

“This is going to be a positive step. There are many community members who are going to be involved.”

Capt. Brooks said the Delaware Army National Guard takes great pride in hosting an event in its home state.

“The Central Delaware Housing Collaborative is our community partner,” said Capt. Brooks. “At this point right now, the mission was picked up, approved and the Delaware Army National Guard was appointed the lead organization for it, so we are very happy to be able to host the mission in our own backyard.

“It means the world to us because we’ve been a part of this program for the last four years, to include missions in Savannah, Georgia, (and) Puerto Rico. … Our mission in Hawaii was canceled this year, but we are looking forward to executing the next one in Dover next year,” he added.

Capt. Brooks said they already have several organizations signed up to help with the medical mission in Dover next year, including a unit as far away as the state of Wyoming and others as close as Pennsylvania and Maryland.

“We should be able to fully support three care sites, which we’ll fully support with medical, dental and optometry services, as well,” he said.

The main body of personnel will report to Dover on July 29, receive billeting assignments and get shipped out to one of the three care sites. The following day will be a setup day, and then, there will be a “soft opening” the third day.

Once that takes place, Dover community members will be able to receive no-cost services from Aug. 1-9 from around 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.

The medical mission will have the services of an organization called NOSTRA (Naval Ophthalmic Support and Training Activity), which will take prescriptions and, within 24 hours, create two new sets of eyewear for the individuals requiring it.

“With the five or six bodies NOSTRA is going to send us, and with the assets and the supply line that we’ll have in place, we’ll probably produce up to 1,000 pairs of brand-new, cost-free glasses for the citizens of Dover,” Capt. Brooks said. “It’s an outstanding asset to have assigned to our mission, and we’re happy to have them on board.”

Capt. Brooks jokingly added that community members will get to pick from six different pairs of glasses, which are all stylish, not like the ones given to military members in basic training.

The last day-and-a-half of the mission will be reserved for tear-down.

“After that, it will look like we were never there,” said Capt. Brooks, who has meetings in November, March and June to hammer out details.

Schutte Park fields hopefully a go
Capt. Brooks said the addition of five athletic fields at Schutte Park is an IRT civil engineering mission whose plan is still waiting for final approval, which he expects to receive.

“Basically, the application calls for the grading of donated or granted land at the far side of Schutte Park, the purpose of which will be five multipurpose fields used for sports or multiple use by the community after completion,” said Capt. Brooks.

The application is working through the approval process; however, no organization has stepped up to be the lead group on that project.

“Unfortunately, with the mission sets that were out there in terms of civil engineering missions, the Schutte Park mission was not picked up by any parent organization,” Capt. Brooks said. “The Marine Corps didn’t apply for it, the Army had other plans for 2021 already in place, the Air Force hadn’t applied for it and so on.

“In other words, the mission was orphaned for a while. When the Army National Guard here in Delaware heard about the mission, that it was orphaned, our plan was always to supply some support role activities to it, but if there’s no mission, we can’t support.”

He added that the Delaware Army National Guard has tried to move heaven and earth for final approval, and though the mission is behind in the application timeline, he is still confident it will take place.

Capt. Brooks said that with coronavirus restrictions, he believes Army engineers’ planned IRT mission to Europe in 2021 is going to be unsustainable because personnel will have to quarantine for an entire month prior to the two weeks that it would take to execute the mission. Then, on the other end, there would be a quarantine for two weeks before coming back to the U.S.

If the Europe mission is canceled, that may help get the Schutte Park event approved.

“That being said, we have not yet been 100% approved for this (Schutte Park project), but we are making strides towards that end,” said Capt. Brooks. “I am still very confident that we’re going to be able to make this mission happen in 2021 for the city of Dover.”

Matt Harline, assistant city manager, said the city will find plenty of purposes for the additional fields if they are constructed.

“We have been waiting for this project to move forward, and we had money budgeted years ago to develop these fields, so this has been part of our long-range plan for a while,” he said. “We will have no problem finding programming as the pandemic restrictions will be lifted before these fields are ready to go.”

Robin Eaton, director of Dover’s Parks & Recreation, said the new fields will replace the ones that will be lost upon the construction of a skate park and dog park at Schutte Park.

“Those fields that we’ll be creating were taken away with the (eventual construction of the) skate park and the dog park,” Mr. Eaton said. “Those areas are currently utilized as fields, so those fields will move to this area. In essence, I think in all, we will pick up two extra fields from what we currently have.”