Flight operators go to the operating table in career field swap

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Many Airmen never get the opportunity to see first-hand what Airmen outside their career field do on a day to day basis, let alone experience it.

That's exactly what the 'swap' program at the Air Force Theater Hospital here at Balad Air Base allowed a handful of Airmen to do.

Airmen from the 23rd and 332nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadrons swapped jobs with Airmen from the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group for a day to gain a greater appreciation of the mission performed by their peers.

Staff Sgt. C.J. Cruz-Francois, 332nd EFS, and Senior Airman Nicole Vaughn, 23rd EFS, spent the day at the AFTH, assisting the staff with tasks including stocking medical supplies, cleaning linen bins and scrubbing in to observe operations.

"We try to expose them to every facet of the hospital," said Chief Master Sgt. David Nordel, 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group chief. "Although traditionally the medical group is the smallest of the groups on base, we have by far the most Air Force specialties within one unit. The goal is for the individual to experience the diversity of the EMDG and get an appreciation for the amount of teamwork that is needed to accomplish our mission of combat trauma care."

The duo checked on patients in the intensive care ward and unit with trained medical technicians who described the injuries and treatments provided to help each individual remain as comfortable as possible and recover from their injuries and ailments.

The exchange Airmen also saw a part of the medical career field that no servicemember hopes to experience, but the AFTH staff has to deal with all too often.

They witnessed a Fallen Angel ceremony for a 21-year-old Soldier, who despite doctors' efforts, died from a gunshot wound. The ceremony, which is a memorial held for servicemembers who gave their lives defending freedom, was attended by the OR staff, hospital chaplains and helicopter pad crew.

"Seeing the guys coming who are injured and hurt -- it really opens up your eyes as to why we're here in Iraq, what we're supporting and what the mission is," said Airman Vaughn, who is deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. "Today was very intense."

"I call the EMDG a combat zone in the middle of an Air Force base because the war comes to us," said Chief Nordel, who is deployed from Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D. "The impact of the loss of a brother or sister in arms is something that medical warriors have to face and deal with, just as maintainers have to deal with 120 degree days or other factors that make their tough job tougher. That part of the medical mission truly defines who and what we are about."

The Airmen also had the opportunity to visit the laboratory and physical therapy clinic where they learned their blood types and tried out some of the equipment used to treat patients who suffer from muscle spasms.

After experiencing a day in the life of a medical technician at the AFTH, it seemed the experience did cause a deeper appreciation and an insight into the overall Air Force mission and how each job is integral to accomplishing the mission.

"It puts things into perspective," said Staff Sgt. C.J. Cruz-Francois, a 332nd EFS aircrew resource management specialist deployed from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. "It's [the work done at the AFTH] phenomenal. When you witness it, you know why you're here [in Iraq]."