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AFRL’s C-STARS Cincinnati honored at 2024 Heroes of Military Medicine

  • Published
  • By Aleah M. Castrejon
  • Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

The Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills, or C-STARS, Cincinnati was honored at the 2024 Henry M. Jackson Foundation, or HJF, Heroes of Military Medicine Award ceremony May 9, 2024, at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Col. (Dr.) Valerie Sams, director of C-STARS, Cincinnati, at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Division of Trauma Critical Care, accepted the award as the 2024 Hero of Military Medicine Ambassador.

The C-STARS program is part of the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, or USAFSAM, which falls under the Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing and the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL. Located at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, C-STARS Cincinnati serves as the platform for Critical Care Air Transport, or CCAT-Advanced train.

The HJF for the Advancement of Military Medicine hosted this year’s event. HJF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing military medicine by serving military, medical, academic and government clients. This year’s award recognized the C-STARS team for its exemplary military-civilian medical partnership, which enhances clinical readiness to save lives both domestically and on the battlefield.

“We owe a debt to the people that we are recognizing this evening because they are the exemplars,” said Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs, the ceremony’s keynote speaker and joint staff surgeon at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. “They embody the best in military medicine, whether nurse, clinical social worker or physician. They are this year's best of the best among the tens of thousands who have dedicated their lives to serve men and women in uniform.”

Maj. Gen. Jeannine M. Ryder, commander of the Air Force Medical Agency and chief of the Air Force Nurse Corps, introduced Sams and highlighted the importance of C-STARS Cincinnati.

As a joint program between the University of Cincinnati Health and the Air Force, the C-STARS Cincinnati program enables military health care providers to sustain their skills and knowledge through collaboration with civilian counterparts, Ryder said.

Ryder emphasized the uniqueness of the C-STARS Cincinnati program, particularly due to its training and validation for the CCAT teams.

“The CCAT teams are responsible for providing the highest level of care for patients in the back of an aircraft or, as we call it, the [intensive care unit, or] ICU, in the sky,” Ryder said.

The benefits of this training extend beyond the military, impacting civilian and military communities.

In a video shown at the awards ceremony, Sams recalled a memorable moment in her career.

“I'd returned from a deployment to Afghanistan as a trauma surgeon, and we were called to come pick up [Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Davis, retired U.S. Army], a soldier who had been severely injured in Afghanistan,” Sams said.

Sams’s team met with a critical care transport team in Germany before flying downrange to pick up Davis. Although Davis did not need extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, continuous dialysis was provided throughout his transport. The CCAT team was essential in caring for Davis during the 20-hour flight from Afghanistan to San Antonio, Texas.

Thanks to the efforts of the CCAT and C-STARS Cincinnati team, Davis made it home and recovered.

Davis attended the ceremony and expressed his gratitude.

“Col. Sams team's efficiency and accomplishing objectives goes beyond mere medals,” Davis said. “By advancing the field in medicine, we're also advancing the innovation of combat, strengthening our nation and safeguarding our interest. Yet there is no medal that can truly capture the depth of your contributions.”

Davis thanked Sams for her continued support.

“Col. Sams, you always made time to visit and support me, and your compassion and commitment have left an invaluable mark on my heart,” he said. “Those of us in the military who have been fortunate enough to witness and contribute to the innovation that strengthen our nation know the impact will endure far beyond our time in the military.”

Taking the podium, Sams expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to represent the C-STARS Cincinnati team and thanked her partners at the University of Cincinnati, especially Dr. Timothy Pritts, chief of Trauma Critical Care and General Surgery and a trauma surgeon at the University of Cincinnati and UC Health, who attended the ceremony with her.

“My job is an aspirational one,” Sams said. “It's one that I've always wanted to become - the director of the C-STARS program in Cincinnati with this unique mission. It's truly the best of the best, and as part of the U.S. Air Force's School of Aerospace Medicine, the 711th [Human Performance Wing] team … and Air Force Research Laboratory and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, you don't find greater experts in critical care than what you find in the schoolhouse.”

Having served in various roles in the military, including enlisted Army and as an Air Force officer on active duty and in a reserve status, Sams said she is living her dream as a trauma surgeon for the U.S. military.

“It really doesn't get much better than that,” she added.

Reflecting on Davis’s journey, Sams acknowledged that much of the struggle begins when the warfighters return home.

“We're working very hard with our CCAT team and our training pipeline to make sure we're ready for that next adventure,” Sams said. “Whatever the world brings us, we want to be ready to bring the best care we can to the nation's warriors.”

Sams emphasized her team’s ongoing commitment to helping warfighters battle addiction, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We're not done working on that,” she said. “We're going to keep on working on that. So, thank you for this great opportunity. Thank you for a great night and I'm just truly honored and humbled to be here.”

The 2025 Heroes of Military Medicine will be May 8, 2025.

About AFRL
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the primary scientific research and development center for the Department of the Air Force. AFRL plays an integral role in leading the discovery, development and integration of affordable warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a workforce of more than 12,500 across nine technology areas and 40 other operations across the globe, AFRL provides a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from fundamental to advanced research and technology development. For more information, visit www.afresearchlab.com.