Medics are warriors too

  • Published
  • By Colonel Lawson A. Copley
  • 301 FW Medical Squadron

There is a dual mission of the 301st Medical Squadron. In garrison, we uphold the 301st Fighter Wing’s mission--to train and deploy combat-ready Airmen. This keeps us busy most Unit Training Assembly weekends, performing Periodic Health Assessments (PHAs) for flyers and non-flyers to improve the Individual Medical Readiness (IMR) for 1800 of our Airmen. It takes a team approach to accomplish this important mission with flight surgeons, physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, dentists, optometrists, nurses, aeromedical, medical, dental, laboratory, immunization, optometry technicians and practice administrators. It is a tremendous privilege for us to serve in this manner. 

But, in the words of Shakespeare, “…when the angry blast of war blows in our ear…,” we have another mission: To conserve the fighting strength of our warriors during combat and contingency operations.  This second mission involves an Air Force Theater Hospital which is available to support the needs of the combatant commanders. This is accomplished by the 301FW Medical Squadron’s Expeditionary Medical Service (EMEDS), a 90-member team who is ready to depart within 72 hours of a deployment order. For this purpose, we train to efficiently assemble and operate a 25 bed hospital in austere conditions. The first wave of this response is known as the Health Response Team (HRT), a 5-tent hospital including an Emergency Room which must be able to treat casualties within two hours of reaching the Area of Responsibility (AOR). This is followed in rapid succession by an operating room (four hours) and intensive care unit (six hours). The rest of the EMEDS HRT, a four inpatient bed facility with pharmacy and radiology, must be at full operating capability within 12 hours of arrival to the AOR. 

This past month, our EMEDS HRT was called upon to support IMMEDIATE RESPONSE 19 as part of U.S. Army Europe’s Black Sea/Balkans Regional Exercises in various locations of Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia. This exercise consisted of a series of overlapping, multi-echelon training events to demonstrate unity, resolve, readiness, and the ability to mass force with speed to potentially deter future threats against our coalition allies.  Working side by side with our Slovenian counterparts, we provided support to the Polish 6th Army in the region during an air assault exercise.  Just-in-time training, using the latest technology and skills of the Joint Trauma System (JTS) Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs), was led by a critical care physician in our squadron. This physician is an associate professor from Parkland Hospital (Dallas) who also served as the course director. Our team condensed 831 pages of training materials in the 45 CPGs into a two day scenario-based course and trained 31 Airmen. 

The courage of the combatants, and the confidence of the combatant commanders to place their troops in harm’s way, is markedly enhanced because of the presence and capabilities of EMEDS units such as ours.  Battlefield case fatality rates (CFR) have declined steadily throughout the twentieth century from 19.1% among all wounded in World War II, to 15.8% in Vietnam, and 9.4% in Operation Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF).  The ability to achieve rapid patient stabilization and efficient aeromedical evacuation in immediate proximity to the point of injury is the reason for this improvement.  A mobile field surgical (MFS) team, a component of our HRT, is now equipped to go behind the wire, carrying 600 lbs. of equipment in back packs to provide life-saving procedures within the golden hour following combat injuries.

Our mission in the 301st Medical Squadron is “In theater and abroad, maintaining the human weapon system.” To conserve the fighting strength of our fellow warriors is the goal of our second mission which is now possible because of EMEDS and the MFS. Although we are non-combatants, in this mission, medics are warriors too.

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