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The Guard Cares

For 12 consecutive years, the 104th Fighter Wing has partnered with the Westfield Head Start program to facilitate ‘Guard-Care’.  Guard care is a health screening program for pre-school age children preparing to enter school; this year’s program was successfully run on September 9th.

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BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Massachusetts -- For 12 consecutive years, the 104th Fighter Wing has partnered with the Westfield Head Start program to facilitate 'Guard-Care'. Guard care is a health screening program for pre-school age children preparing to enter school; this year's program was successfully run on September 9th.

The Medical Group began providing back-to-school screening opportunities for the Westfield Head Start under the direction of Brig. Gen. Marie Fields (ret.), a pediatric nurse and Chief Nurse at the unit at that time. The unit was lacking pediatric clinical experience, and this partnership allowed the members to gain knowledge and experience while providing a service to children in the local community.

Massachusetts requires all children to receive a health screening 45 days of being enrolled in the program. The children who participate in Head Start are from families who have limited financial resources, and often do not have the opportunity or means of meeting the state requirements. What started as a small program initially helping a few dozen children has grown to nearly 200 children.

With the help from the 104th clinic, the children go through a few basic and noninvasive tests. Their hearing and vision are checked, their height and weight is recorded and they receive an initial dental check-up.

Lt. Col. Sean Collins, the 104th Medical Group Commander is very happy to work with the team from Head Start. The goal of the screening is to help identify any child that may be in need of additional services.

"We have gained so much from this effort; we are both building our experience in pediatric medicine, but also making a very visible and needed difference in the community," Collins said.

Maureen Vosburgh, the Health and Safety Manager from Westfield Head Start has coordinated this effort with the Guard from the onset of this initiative. She depends on the help from the Guard to ensure the children are taken-care of before the school year starts. In 12 years, their have been a lot of lessons learned.

This year, the group assisted in providing 120 children their required screening. More then 20 Head Start and Salvation Army staff members assist in this day long event; not only working with the children, but also teaching the parents.

"We have learned over time that this is as important for the parents as it is for the children," said Ms. Vosburgh. "We take this opportunity to educate the parents on programs and resources to help them be better parents as their children start attending and succeeding in school."

This program aided families from the following communities: Agawam, Branford, Chicopee, Holyoke, Russell, Westfield and West Springfield.