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‘There I was’ The power of Airmen

  • Published
  • By Col. Patrick Williams
  • 6th Medical Operation Squadron commander
There are few Air Force Medical Service officers who are afforded the privilege of command and even fewer who get the opportunity to do so in a contingency environment, so I was really humbled when I was selected by the Air Force Central Surgeon General Office to command the 455th Expeditionary Medical Operations Squadron at Craig Joint Theater Hospital last Fall.

Professionally, I was well prepared for the tasking having previously commanded at one time or another all of the departments represented there in medical operations to include the emergency room, operating room, intensive care unit, outpatient clinic, public health, bioenvironmental engineering, mental health, aeromedical staging flight, anesthesia, flight medicine, and an array of surgical subspecialties ... all totaling about 55 separate Air Force specialty codes.

It was there I really learned the true definition of airpower and the contribution of the 6th Air Mobility Wing to that capability.

Craig Joint Theater Hospital possesses an incredible capability. On any given day it's easily the busiest trauma center in the world. There is a fairly constant flow of what are simply unimaginable traumatic injuries. Receiving 20 in a day was not uncommon and whereas even the finest, most technologically advanced Trauma Centers in the United States would become overwhelmed with two or three of these casualties, the Airmen at Craig Joint Theater Hospital routinely received six or more simultaneously and the organized, orchestrated chaos that followed resulted in an even more unimaginable 99 percent survival rate for any injured Airman, Sailor, Soldier, or Marine who rolled through those doors.

The phenomenal work the Airmen accomplished there did not go unnoticed; it was recognized at the highest levels. Every dignitary and distinguished visitor that visited Bagram inevitably ended up at Craig Theater Hospital during their visit, no matter the time constraints placed upon them during their visit. They included the president, secretary of defense, Air Force command chief, ISAF commander, Middle East and Central Asian Ambassadors, countless congressional delegations, and a host of our most senior military officers. They wanted to do two things during their visit; visit with the casualties and say "thank you" and shake the hands of the Airmen of Craig Joint Theater Hospital.

Our staff also hosted civilian medical leaders from around the United States. Trauma surgeons and trauma directors from no less than six world-renowned American medical institutions visited because they wanted to see how and why we were so successful at what we did. They wanted to see our Airmen in action in the ER, OR, ICU, and in the cargo compartment of our aircraft. They were there to see how we did things so they could export our ideas and processes and be able to do the same things we did at their respective institutions at home.

In addition to executing their primary mission of treating battle injuries, the Airmen of Craig Joint Theater Hospital also embarked upon a robust humanitarian mission, performing interventions for the local Afghan community for their chronic medical and surgical conditions. Personnel conducted several outside the wire visits to local communities providing medical care and building trusting relationships with members of the local villages. I cannot emphasize enough the benefits that were realized from performing that important mission.

The Airmen of Craig Joint Theater Hospital, during its busiest time in history, demonstrated and showcased our country's instruments of national power across the diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and cultural spectrums on a daily basis. They were able to do that because of the Airmen assigned there.

The young active-duty surgeon for example, who recently graduated from a residency, was well-versed in the latest theory, equipment, machinery, clinical practice guidelines, surgical procedures, etc. They were often times partnered with a much more seasoned total force surgeon with years, and at times, decades of experience in their toolkit. That combination of youth and experience, each complementing the other's strengths, was one of the key factors in the success of the facility.

Another key to success were the Airmen of the 6th Air Mobility Wing. From one end of the facility to the other, without exception, every single duty section had a representative from the 6th AMW and more specifically the 6th Medical Group. Every squadron, flight, element, and individual duty section had a 6th AMW person working in it. Ultimately, every great save of a wounded Airman, Soldier, Sailor, or Marine had the fingerprints of an Airman from the 6th AMW on them.

I have never been more proud and I have never been more humbled to command a group of Airmen than I was while commanding the men and women of the 6th AMW deployed to the world's busiest trauma center performing the noblest all missions ... which brings me to my final point ... airpower.

Shortly after my arrival at Bagram, my wing commander asked me what airpower was. I gave him the textbook answer that I was pretty sure he wasn't looking for at the time; but since I wasn't sure where he was going with the conversation, and since it was my first day there, and since he was a general officer, I decided to play that one safe.

Following my reply he went on to tell me more about the Expeditionary Medical Group and its mission than any F-15 driver should really know. He told me about the awesome volume of patients passing through our facility, the never-before-achieved survival rates, the local villager hearts and minds that were won and the intelligence and diplomatic benefits reaped as a result of that. He told me of the incredible level of confidence that was instilled in the warfighters, who knew if they were injured their chance of survival was 99 percent. We discussed the interaction and relationship we had with the Afghan, Egyptian, Korean, and UAE hospitals throughout the area of responsibility and the advances in medical care across all of Afghanistan because of that.

We talked about aeromedical evacuation capabilities and the effects the AE mission delivers. In general, it was a discussion of the contributions of the EMDG to the instruments of national power across the entire spectrum of the DIME-C and how all of that capability must be delivered by Airmen because there is nobody else on this planet that can do it as successfully as we can ... that was his definition of airpower.

He taught me that day that airpower is not flying CAPs over the nation's Capital, it's not providing close air support, OCA, or an air bridge to the Middle East. He taught me that airpower is simply the Power of Airmen ... Airmen doing what nobody else can do. Airpower is demonstrated every day in every corner of the world by the men and women of the 6th Air Mobility Wing and on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you!