Deployment gives Airman new respect for medical profession

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Scott Hilmes
  • 22nd Medical Services Squadron commander
"Proud to be ... MDG," which means proud to be part of a medical group, is a slogan medics often holler at award and promotion ceremonies, but for many, it's much more than a chant.

While recently deployed to Iraq, I witnessed events that gave me a more profound understanding and appreciation of Air Force health care.
Air force medics do a phenomenal job of providing military members and their families the best health care possible. My family has personally experienced outstanding care throughout my 22-year career.

However, before I deployed, I didn't realize the true importance of military medicine and its ability to deliver around-the-world care and achieve incredible life-saving results. I had the opportunity to witness firsthand just how important and successful medical care is downrange. I was deployed to an expeditionary medical support squadron responsible for taking care of more than 4,200 members of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

One evening, the medics were summoned to treat injured coalition warriors, which is a common occurrence. I remember hearing the sound of a helicopter approaching. It was carrying patients from the battlefield. It was like being in an episode of "MASH."
This time the helicopter was transporting wounded Iraqi army soldiers whose Humvee had run over an improvised explosive device.

Immediately, our entire staff went to work on five injured Iraqi soldiers. Unfortunately, despite the staff's tireless effort and unbelievable skill, one of the five warriors succumbed to his traumatic injuries. In spite of this horrible loss of life, our fellow Iraqi soldier and U.S. Army Special Forces brethren were extremely gracious with their praise of our staff's work.

Soon after, we received an e-mail from a U.S. Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel who had worked alongside the injured Iraqi army soldiers we had treated. The e-mail conveyed his condolences for the deceased soldier and also his newfound understanding of why American servicemembers love their country so much.

"After what I saw last night, I understand why American Soldiers love their country," the Army colonel said in his e-mail. "America values human life. Last night, no matter what the soldier's injuries or their ranks, there were 10 medics working on each Iraqi soldier."
Many of our fellow Americans sit in wonder and amazement yet fail to understand why we serve and volunteer for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's because we get to change and save people's lives.

I would ask them, "How many of you have jobs that afford you the opportunity to have such an impact on someone's life."

I consider my service to the men, women and families of McConnell, and my country, to be an honor and a privilege, and I'm "Proud to be ... MDG!"