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Air Force Medical Service demonstrates reliable trifecta supporting patients, nation, world

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(Graphic by U.S. Air Force)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- When most people think of the Air Force Medical Service they probably imagine staff in the various clinics at the local military treatment facility, and they would be correct.

Whether working behind the glass barrier of the pharmacy, the private room of the mental health clinic, or in the lab, medics take care of the vital mission of keeping beneficiaries healthy and service members ready.

However, there is much more Air Force medics do.

“Air Force Medicine exists to protect our nation,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Miller, Surgeon General of the Air Force. “In addition to providing medical care to military and non-military beneficiaries, Air Force medics play a key role in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and of course combat missions, delivering much needed medical and operational support to warfighters, the nation, allies and partners.”

Image of an Airman providing dental care.
210611-F-CO180-1019
U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Brandi Jordan, a dental hygienist with the 99th Dental Squadron, from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., examines a patient’s teeth during Resolute Sentinel 21 in Melchor De Mencos, Guatemala, June 11, 2021. This exercise allows U.S. military members to gain experience in a deployed environment as well as provide healthcare to local citizens who may not have regular access. (U.S. photo by Staff Sgt. Lauren Silverthorne)
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Lauren Silverthorne
VIRIN: 210611-F-CO180-1019
Humanitarian Assistance

Humanitarian assistance missions push medics out of their comfort zone and force a new level of collaboration and coordination in challenging circumstances. These missions lay the groundwork to build and maintain positive connections with allies and partners, while strengthening other nations’ medical capabilities.

An International Health Specialist Program was established more than 20 years ago as part of the AFMS’s Global Health Engagements efforts by former U.S. Air Force Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Paul K. Carlton Jr., with a goal to extend the operational reach of the joint forces.

International health specialists apply regional expertise, cultural competency, and foreign language proficiency to effectively engage with partner nations to build meaningful relationships.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Pitale, a doctor with the 169th Medical Group, examines a Colombian patient September 4, 2021. Doctors and med techs from the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Medical Group teamed up with medics from the South Carolina Army National Guard to travel to the remote town of Tamana, Colombia to participate in a real-word community medical and humanitarian support mission September 4, 2021. While there, the medical personnel provided dental, optical, dermatology, pharmacy and general medical care to more than 300 patients. South Carolina Air National Guard and South Carolina Army National Guard medical personnel participate in the regional Ángel de los Andes (Angel of the Andes) and Cooperación VII exercises in Colombia August 30 to September 10, 2021. The exercises provide training opportunities with South Carolina’s state partner Colombia in realistic combat search and rescue missions as well as humanitarian aid and disaster response scenarios such as earthquakes and tsunamis. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Lt. Col. Jim St.Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)
SCNG supports Angel of the Andes exercise in Colombia
U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Pitale, a doctor with the 169th Medical Group, examines a Colombian patient September 4, 2021. Doctors and med techs from the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Medical Group teamed up with medics from the South Carolina Army National Guard to travel to the remote town of Tamana, Colombia to participate in a real-word community medical and humanitarian support mission September 4, 2021. While there, the medical personnel provided dental, optical, dermatology, pharmacy and general medical care to more than 300 patients. South Carolina Air National Guard and South Carolina Army National Guard medical personnel participate in the regional Ángel de los Andes (Angel of the Andes) and Cooperación VII exercises in Colombia August 30 to September 10, 2021. The exercises provide training opportunities with South Carolina’s state partner Colombia in realistic combat search and rescue missions as well as humanitarian aid and disaster response scenarios such as earthquakes and tsunamis. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Lt. Col. Jim St.Clair, 169th Fighter Wing Public Affairs)
Photo By: Lt. Col. Jim St.Clair
VIRIN: 210904-Z-NA930-023
One of the many advantages of IHS missions is that they often create the opportunity for cooperation that may not have previously been on the table. In some cases, sharing much needed medical expertise and knowledge sets the stage for other types of military engagements going forward. These small wins support the nation and the overall National Defense Strategy in ways typical military or diplomatic efforts may have never achieved. As a result, peace and stability are enhanced.

For example, a humanitarian medical mission with Laos in 2007 eased tensions between the two countries that dated back to the mid-1970s. Air Force medics paved the way for more bilateral engagements, marking the first time in nearly three decades the Department of Defense had engaged with the Laotian military.

A shift in focus from just performing routine medical care to influencing a bigger portion of the operational mission is a huge takeaway for many Air Force medics.

“Being an International Health Specialist requires adaptability, open-mindedness, resourcefulness, and big-picture thinking. Through big-picture thinking, we can develop whole-of-government solutions when unexpected global crises strike,” said Master Sgt. Mouhamed Gadiaga, International Health Specialist Program Manager.

“When I became an International Health Specialist, it all came together. It was the first time I could really see how my actions, and the actions of my fellow nurses, really contribute to our national security strategy,” said Col. Donna Hornberger, International Health Specialist.

U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and Royal Moroccan Air Force AE team members share tactics, techniques and procedures during a multinational casualty evacuation training exercise during exercise African Lion 21, June 16, 2021. African Lion maintains combat readiness by ensuring the ability to provide superior airpower capabilities in support of U.S. and partner interests in the region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Devin Nothstine)
Air Force, partners train in African Lion 21
U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 86th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron and Royal Moroccan Air Force AE team members share tactics, techniques and procedures during a multinational casualty evacuation training exercise during exercise African Lion 21, June 16, 2021. African Lion maintains combat readiness by ensuring the ability to provide superior airpower capabilities in support of U.S. and partner interests in the region. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Devin Nothstine)
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Devin Nothstine
VIRIN: 210616-F-BT441-1636
Disaster Relief

In the wake of devastation, or in underserved areas of the world, the unique capabilities that Air Force medics bring to the table are critical to saving lives. These highly trained professionals remain ready and prepared to deploy in whatever size package the mission calls for, and often deploy with limited equipment and supplies.

Once mobilized, support can range from aeromedical evacuations, patient staging, and any level of care in mobile medical clinics, to bioenvironmental engineers checking for hazards and everything in between.

Members of the U.S. Air Force Critical Care Air Transport Team (Pedicatics) assist Guatemalan medical personnel with loading critically injured patients on board a Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III. The aircrew from the 172nd Airlift Wing, transported six children from Guatemala to receive medical treatment in the United States for burns and other injuries sustained during the June 3, 2018 Fuego Volcano eruption. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Edward Staton)
U.S. Air Force to airlift Guatemalan children injured by volcanic eruption
Members of the U.S. Air Force Critical Care Air Transport Team (Pedicatics) assist Guatemalan medical personnel with loading critically injured patients on board a Mississippi Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III. The aircrew from the 172nd Airlift Wing, transported six children from Guatemala to receive medical treatment in the United States for burns and other injuries sustained during the June 3, 2018 Fuego Volcano eruption. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Edward Staton)
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Edward Staton
VIRIN: 180607-F-NM995-996
While these missions make a positive impact on those receiving support, Airmen also benefit by sharpening their skills and treating injuries that are difficult to simulate in a training environment.

“When we work in garrison, we have additional doctors, technicians and machines available if something goes wrong,” said Air Force Capt. Kimpreet Kaur, a 59th Medical Wing anesthesiologist. ”These limited conditions [in disaster relief missions] help prepare us for what we might see if we deploy downrange in the future, which in turn will help us save countless lives.”

Air Force medics have been involved in disaster relief missions since the early days of the AFMS, as part of the Air Force Disaster Assistance Team. In recent years, Air Force medics have responded to everything from hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, to the ongoing global pandemic.

Reserve Citizen Airmen assigned to the 45th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, carry patients aboard a C-17 Globemaster III in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 24, 2017. Reserve Citizen Airmen conducted humanitarian mission to St. Croix to evacuate victims affected by Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean)
Reserve Citizen Airmen provide aeromedical evacuation to hurrican victims
Reserve Citizen Airmen assigned to the 45th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, carry patients aboard a C-17 Globemaster III in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 24, 2017. Reserve Citizen Airmen conducted humanitarian mission to St. Croix to evacuate victims affected by Hurricane Maria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean)
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Peter Dean
VIRIN: 170924-F-HJ539-0700
Most recently, a Disaster Assistance Response Team deployed to Haiti to assist in the aftermath of the August 14, 2021 earthquake.

“Responding to natural disasters is distinct from the warfighting mission in that [for combat deployments] you typically know when your unit is deploying months in advance, it involves quite a bit of planning, and you have time to train,” said Lt. Col. Amanda Hill, 140th Medical Group commander. “Compared to natural disasters which are not… predictable, you need to be able to respond within a few hours and deploy your skills effectively in the most challenging of circumstances.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the nation, medics found themselves on the frontlines using their skills in an unprecedented fashion, and augmenting civilian counterparts to fight a novel virus that there was not much information on initially.

The adaptability of Air Force medics was especially important as they deployed around the U.S.

Staff Sgt. Jorge Garcia-Gonzalez, 49th Wing chaplain's assistant, provides medical translation for a Federal Emergency Management Agency medic at a clinic in Puerto Rico on Oct. 28, 2017. (Courtesy photo)
Home Again
Staff Sgt. Jorge Garcia-Gonzalez, 49th Wing chaplain's assistant, provides medical translation for a Federal Emergency Management Agency medic at a clinic in Puerto Rico on Oct. 28, 2017. (Courtesy photo)
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Ilyana A. Escalona
VIRIN: 171128-F-NN403-001
Between April and June 2021 the 375th Medical Group from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, deployed 39 medics to the Community Vaccination Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area in support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency response, vaccinating thousands of people.

“The number of people vaccinated is surely impressive, but one of our greatest accomplishments is the lasting positive impression we forged with the community,” said Capt. Richard Larson, 375th Health Care Operations Squadron nurse practitioner. “This community will know that when their people were suffering and needed help, our military answered their call.”

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in 2020, hundreds of Air Force medics have deployed, and thousands remain on standby, supporting communities in need all over the U.S.

Department of Defense medics await patients April 27, 2021, at the Community Vaccination Center (CVC) in St. Paul, Minnesota. In a release Tim Walz, Minnesota state governor, said that the vaccination site will receive 168,000 doses over the course of eight weeks. This will in turn lead to more than 100,000 total people being vaccinated. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexi Bosarge)
Total Force medics help support FEMA in vaccine efforts
Department of Defense medics await patients April 27, 2021, at the Community Vaccination Center (CVC) in St. Paul, Minnesota. In a release Tim Walz, Minnesota state governor, said that the vaccination site will receive 168,000 doses over the course of eight weeks. This will in turn lead to more than 100,000 total people being vaccinated. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexi Bosarge)
Photo By: Senior Airman Alexi Bosarge
VIRIN: 210427-F-AD239-0028
Combat

Lessons learned from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, combined with formal education, training and partnerships with civilian hospitals, prepare Air Force medics to save lives in combat, both on the ground and in the air.

On August 26, three C-17 Globemaster III aircraft with aeromedical evaluation crews and Critical Care Air Transport Teams launched to evacuate injured U.S. service members and Afghan nationals following the bombing at Kabul’s airport.

Air Force medics cared for multitudes of sick and injured personnel in the air and at every stop back to the U.S.

“In medicine, we sometimes get isolated behind the four walls of the medical treatment facility. But medicine is not just about seeing patients or clinical work. It’s bigger than that,” said Lt. Gen. Miller.

No matter where Air Force medics go, they bring with them unique capabilities and experience to seamlessly coordinate and execute successful missions.

The Air Force’s ability to flex for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and combat missions makes for a well-rounded trifecta providing trusted and reliable care wherever the nation calls them.

“Air Force Medicine is built on the foundation of commitment to our mission and caring for our patients. This is true on the battlefield, the flooded streets of our coastal communities, in humanitarian missions with partner nations, and in our everyday practice. Every medical Airman should be proud of their ability to support these commitments,” said Miller.

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