“The Gathering Place” 140th Medical Group becomes familiar with Hawaiian Culture

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nicole Manzanares
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
The island of Oahu is full of lush greenery, beautiful mountains, breathtaking sunsets - not to mention the Pacific Ocean - all surrounding the diamond-shaped haven. Oahu has been known for a long time as "The Gathering Place."  However, the term Oahu has no confirmed meaning in Hawaiian, other than that of the place itself. Ancient Hawaiian tradition attributes the name's origin in the legend of Hawai'iloa, the Polynesian navigator credited with discovery of the Hawaiian Islands. The legend states that he named the island after a son.

Members of the Colorado Air National Guard's 140th Medical Group flew to the beautiful isle in support of Hawaii's Medical Innovative Readiness Training Program (HIMIRT), a domestic civil-military training program - E Malama Kakou ("to care for all") - and learned all about the Hawaiian culture.

The HIMIRT program is a training alternative for Air National Guard units to conduct hands-on, real-world training missions tailored to a unit's capabilities, and mission essential tasks and requirements that enhance combat readiness, exercise leadership skills, and strengthen unit morale and retention. The program's focus is quality training and service to communities. The goal is to provide military medical personnel a premiere world-class training environment and provide service to medically under-served communities within Hawaii.

Stephany Vaioleti, assistant administrator at Kahuku Medical Center, Denise Cooper, director of nursing at Kahuku Medical Center and Air National Guard Capt. Jason Iyomasa, ANG program Manager for the Hawaii Medical Innovative Readiness Training Program, conducted the cultural familiarization class to the 140th Medical Group at the medical center.

The medical group was divided into five teams and each team was given a box full of items that related to the Hawaiian culture. The teams then talked about the items and read the literature that was included in the box to the entire medical group.

First things first: beaches. There are a lot of them along the coastline. Barbecuing and taking friends and family to the beach is very common, the sunsets are breathtaking, and surfing is popular. (Although the exact origin of surfing is unknown, most historians believe Polynesians were already well versed in the sport by the time they migrated to the Hawaiian Islands some 2,000 years ago.) World-renowned annual surf contests are held from early November to late December. Kahuku High School is ranked nationally for football and is currently in the top five in the nation for the most active National Football League players from a single high school. In addition to football other popular sports in Oahu are track and field, basketball, wrestling, water polo, volleyball and judo. Other outdoor activities that are prominent in Oahu are sightseeing, swimming, hiking, biking, fishing and camping to name a few.

"Hawaii - it's a place you either fall in love with, or people come here and fall in love and never leave," said Cooper.

The medical group also learned that there were a lot of challenges living in Oahu. Not only were the roads bad and traffic can be at a standstill for hours at a time, but there are no helicopter medical evacuation services, making it difficult for emergency service vehicles to pass through the heavy traffic on the one- to two-lane roads.

There is also a lack of affordable housing. Many households have three to four generations living in one home due to the high cost of living. On average, a mid-sized house roughly goes on market for more than $500,000 and for a condominium, the average sale price is well over $200,000. According to Vaioleti, sources indicate a cost of living ranging from 30 percent above the national average to well more than 60 percent for certain family sizes.  In 2006, a family of four renting accommodation in Honolulu needed to earn $111,695 - or 55 percent more income - to maintain a lifestyle similar to a comparable family earning $72,000 in the continental U.S.  Hawaii ranks close to the bottom of the list at 47th for the most affordable housing market.

According to Vaioleti, another struggle for Oahu residents is health insurance.  In January 2006, the average cost for Health Maintenance Organization (managed care) for an individual in Hawaii was $437 per month and for a family of four, $747 a month. The average cost for indemnity (non-managed care) for an individual was $563 a month and for a family $936 a month. Unfortunately, native Hawaiians have the poorest health statistics compared to other ethnic groups such as Caucasians and Asians, including the highest death rates of all. High disability rates secondary to stroke and cerebrovascular conditions, high rates of hypertension, twice the obesity rates, the highest cancer mortality rates, extremely high rates of diabetes have also been reported. Other health concerns include asthma, poor dental health, drug abuse, inadequate prenatal care and teen births.

At the conclusion of the presentations, members of the Kahuku Medical Center staff expressed their gratitude towards the 140th Medical Group for giving their time and efforts to help the communities of Oahu - not only for health care but for also helping raise the morale of the people being served.

"This is our third year in the E Malama Kakou. You will see a lot of diverse cultures, ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic differences, but we all need one thing and that is your help. We are really glad that you are here," said Iyomasa.