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380AEW Article

Heart of the machine: Nurses, medical technicians keep mission going

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Marjorie A. Bowlden
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Imagine, for a moment, that a military organization is a machine. There are several parts that must work in concert with one another for the machine to function properly. The main computer must correctly issue commands, the machine must be properly powered, and every piece must be accurately aligned.


Without proper maintenance to keep the individual components in working condition, the machine eventually falters and fails. Even a minor malfunction can lead to catastrophic failure. So what keeps the gears turning?


“I think nurses and medical technicians are the grease between every gear,” said Senior Airman Clinton, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group aerospace technician. “We’re not just a service that you reach to if you need a particular task. We are a focal point for the entire military population.”


Nurses and Medical Technician Appreciation Week began May 6, 2017. The week is a yearly event designed to recognize the less familiar careers within the medical field.


Nurses and med techs play a vital role in the overall mission of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, said Maj. Matthew, 380 EMDG medical operations flight commander. They serve on the front lines against the invisible enemies that keep service members from accomplishing their mission.


It takes a special kind of resilience to be in the medical field, said Matthew. But when it comes to being a warfighter and medical professional, that resilience is often put to the test.


“In the military, it really is a special breed,” said Matthew. “In this profession here, you’re on the clock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If something happens, we would all get called in on an hour’s sleep. There’s a lot of stressors, and civilians may not understand that.”


These medical professionals, whether military or civilian, are in a unique position, said Matthew. They are not doctors but are qualified to do what it takes to save a life. However, they are not always the ones who are immediately recognized when people seek help; often times, people ask  specifically for doctors when in need rather than nurses or medical technicians.


“We [nurses and doctors] are all of equal importance, we’re all one team,” said Clinton. “They’re nothing without us, and we’re nothing without them.”


Life in the medical field can get chaotic, said Matthew. Even when not working in an emergency room or trauma unit, operations tempo can increase significantly or drop to practically nothing without warning.


In a deployed environment, that tempo can be practically constant. Matthew, who has been deployed in locations like Afghanistan and served as an intensive care unit nurse for several years, has seen nearly 1,200 traumas and has experienced the worst that military medicine has to offer.


“You can only do that for so long because it starts to take a toll,” he said. “You have to focus on the job and not the person, but you still know that it’s a human being.”


If not tending patients, it can be easy for a deployed nurse or med tech to become frustrated at not being able to use their skills to help others. At the same time, there can be an odd sense of relief, creating an oxymoronic mix of emotions inherent in the field.


“Everyone wants to be a superstar medic and get out there on a 911 call,” said Clinton. “But eventually, you get to a point where you rejoice that that doesn’t happen. I don’t want to see hurt people. I’d rather be a rusty tool than constantly used.”


However, that special strength that seems ingrained in every medical professional finds opportunity to shine through if only one looks for it. Even amid the chaos of a deployment, for Airmen like Clinton, the stress is worth it.


“It’s just a feeling, you can’t really put it into words,” said Clinton. “Knowing you’ve really made a difference, or seeing a sickly person by the end of a visit become a brand new person… you actively see your work pay off.”


[Names of 380 AEW personnel have been removed for security purposes]