Example in Volunteerism

The medical team, led by Dr. Callahan, has been traveling for the past sixteen years to treat hundreds of people, both young and old, with a variety of ocular ailments.. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by: Master Sgt. Michael Todd)

The medical team, led by Dr. Callahan, has been traveling for the past sixteen years to treat hundreds of people, both young and old, with a variety of ocular ailments.. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by: Master Sgt. Michael Todd)


The Air Force values its airmen’s service to others. So much so, that a medal was created to recognize those that choose to volunteer their time in service to the civilian community. Most consider volunteering at a soup kitchen or spending days on Habitat for Humanity work sites. However, one member of the 117th Intelligence Squadron went above and beyond to demonstrate how a veteran member of the National Guard can make a big difference to those in great need, even at a substantial personal cost and while no one was watching, with no expectation of personal recognition.

Master Sgt. Michael Todd Crook is a Geospatial Analyst on drill status and a temporary technician with the 117th Intelligence Squadron. His service spans over twenty years between his beginning in the U.S. Marine Corps and then continuing on in the Air National Guard for the last fifteen years. During that time he has been deployed all over the world in support of the military operations but for ten days this past February he traveled with a volunteer medical group led by Dr. Michael Callahan of the UAB Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital to Nicaragua. As military members we’ve all had a deployment or mission that affected us more deeply than others, this one was his.

Nicaragua is a small communist country that lies in Central America. Its scenery is incredible and its weather is almost always sunny and warm due to its location near the equator. However, this combination is also a curse for the very poor of the nation. Extended exposure to very strong equatorial sunlight can damage eyes and cause cataracts, a very treatable condition. Unfortunately, in Nicaragua healthcare is sparse and unattainable for many. The medical team, led by Dr. Callahan, has been traveling for the past sixteen years to treat hundreds of people, both young and old, with a variety of ocular ailments. The patients walk for hours to the “Alabama Clinic” run by Dr. Rudy Vargas after being notified by a loud speaker on a car or by word of mouth of the arrival of the American team.

“An old man in his eighties traveled for hours by canoe from a remote island and then walked for hours to receive care and he wasn’t an isolated case,” stated Cindy Ratliff, Dr. Callahan’s office manager.

Parent’s brought children with a variety of eye disorders including amblyopia, or “Lazy Eye” to the team and without hesitation, handed them to the strangers in hopes that they could help their little ones. Very common procedures by first world standards were completely unattainable for them.

Mrs. Ratliff stated that Crook gained the nickname “Hacksaw” from the doctors in the group. One reason he earned his call sign was due to the fact that the equipment the surgical team was forced to use was very old and dilapidated but Crook managed to cobble together whatever the doctors asked for from scrap that he found around the hospital. When asked by Dr. Callahan for a six foot board with a restraint for performing eye surgery on a toddler, he returned fifteen minutes later with a functional papoose board made from a menagerie of boards and different sized screws, much to the doctor’s surprise. The other reason was due to his strong personality. As many of his co-workers at the Intelligence Squadron can tell you, Crook has his opinions and isn’t afraid to let you know what they are when it comes to getting a mission completed. One of the patients at the hospital received surgery that required a follow-up visit the next day. When Crook found the young lady laying on a bench outside of the hospital, post operation, he asked why she was there. He learned that she was not from the area and had nowhere to go so she was going to sleep on the bench until the next morning. Crook inquired with hospital staff why she wasn’t being admitted overnight. He was told that it wasn’t their problem, he disagreed. He explained, through an interpreter, to the president of the hospital that they must admit the patient or he would bring her in and stand guard over her all night until the doctors returned. The hospital saw that he was quite serious and eventually admitted her.

I heard quite a few stories from Mrs. Ratliff about what went on during the hectic ten days that Crook ran the comings and goings of operations at the hospital from carrying babies to holding IV bags because the pole broke. All of them were incredible but the most incredible was how she said it impacted him and I can attest to that. Crook is a changed individual. He has been humbled while representing us as an American in a foreign land and as a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer in the Air National Guard.
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.